Sunday, November 05, 2006

In Memoriam: Willis Weber

Tomorrow (November 6) we will lay Willis Weber to rest in Iowa City's Oakland Cemetary, near his parents, Irving and Martha Weber (and mine).

It was 1941 when my sister Kate and I first met Willis (or "Willie" as he then was, when I was called "Nicky" and she was "Katy"). We had moved across town from Brown Street (where we'd lived with Paul Engle's family) to the Melrose neighborhood (now designated a "national historic neighborhood"). Willie and I became fast friends, and since his house was the closest of any of the neighborhood kids' we spent a lot of time together.

But we had a good many playmates. It was an idyllic neighborhood for families and kids in the 1940s. I won't be able to recall everyone's name, but in addition to Willie there were the Holland kids -- Jerry, Pat and Anne -- Jack Nelson and his sister, Jack Swank, Jack Neuzil, Vern Dow, the Bradbury boy, Cloe Alt, Buddy Means, David Brodsky, Bob Fry, the Myers kids, and Wendell Turnipseed who came to visit in the summers.

World War II brought the U.S. Navy Pre-Flight Training School to the University of Iowa, right up the street in the Field House. Across the road, Captain Hanrahan had his office. He would let us follow the front lines in Europe on the map on his wall. Jerry marched with the troops, and got to know one of them named John Glenn, who years later played a role in Jerry's admission to the Annapolis Naval Academy -- from which he went on to become a distinguished Navy Admiral.

This is not the place or occasion for a lengthy memoir about growing up with Willie Weber, so I'll just mention a few items. We ran braided copper wire between our two houses (which required crossing a street), to see if we could make our battery-powered telegraph key work. (It did, but only barely; not enough to make communication possible. Martha Weber was convinced that experiment was the origin of a leak in the roof of their family home. She was no more fond of the results of the experiment we conducted one afternoon to see if a fan could slice a banana.)

We built a dam in the creek that ran through the neighborhood park, and used it to capture tadpoles. Sometimes we'd walk uptown in the evening and take a few mixed nuts from the containers at Irving Weber's ice cream dairy. We'd put pennies on the Rock Island railroad track to have the trains flatten them for us, and occasionally play in the empty cars on the side track, or hang on a boxcar for awhile when the trains were moving slowly enough. We debated with the other guys whether, if we were to use a 50-cent piece, it would derail the train -- but since no one ever had a half-dollar to donate to science we never found out.

There were three group activities I recall: kick the can (a kind of hide-and-seek game) in the evenings under the neighborhood street light, playing "war" substituting sticks for rifles, and apple sticks in the fall (cutting and using a flexible stick to propel apples a block or two down the street). There was skating on Melrose Lake in the winter time and skiing down "suicide hill." And everyone pitched in when we decided to "dig a hole to China" that ended up about four-by-four-by about eight feet deep before the project was abandoned (after Katy "accidentally" dropped a brick on my head when I was in the bottom of the hole).

We felt free to walk in and out of anyone's house at any time, and my memory is that we would call (or walk) around on Sunday morning to see whose mother was making the best breakfast. Willie's mother served what we called "elephant ears," a large, flat, sweet pastry that was very tasty. For dinner, however, Willie was not fond of salad. His solution was to divert his mother's attention from the table, grab his salad, and put it in his pocket, which would be emptied after the meal when we were outdoors playing.

As we went off to separate high schools (he to City High, me to University High School), then college, and our careers (Willis in the Air Force), we saw each other less often, but would usually be home in Iowa City for holidays and would catch up then.

As we come to the end of our lives we've returned to Iowa City, I in 1980, Willis tomorrow, where our families are once again neighbors, and where, at some point, I'll be back in his neighborhood once again.

Here's the Press-Citizen's obit:

Willis E. Weber, age 75 formerly of Iowa City, died Wednesday, November 1, 2006, at a hospital in Colorado Springs, CO.

Graveside services with military honors will be held at 10:30 a.m., Monday, November 6, 2006, at the Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City with the Reverend Paul Akin officiating. Members of the University of Iowa Swim Team, past and present will honor the former teammate by escorting his casket to his grave. Online condolences may be sent for his family through our website at

Willis Edward Weber was born January 4, 1931, in Iowa City the son of Irving B. and Martha T. (Whiteside) Weber. Following graduation from Iowa City City High School he attended the University of Iowa. Here he was a Big Ten Letterman as an accomplished swimmer on the University of Iowa Swim Team. Willis later joined the United States Air Force as his life's career retiring as a Lieutenant Colonial in Colorado.

His family includes daughters, Michiko Sandman of Phoenix, AZ, Ingrid (Greg) Know of Atlanta, GA, and Anna (Scott) Thares of Minneapolis, MN; son, John (Christy) Weber of Rapids City, SD; grandchildren, Danielle Sanddusky, Zoe Knox, Abigail Knox, Louie Thares, Greta Thares, Allison Weber and Megan Weber.

Willis was preceded in death by his wives, Lou Anne (Hopkins) Weber, and Dee ((Hawkins) Weber, and his parents, Irving and Martha Weber.

Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service of Iowa City is caring for Willis's family and his services.

"Willis Weber, 75," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 4, 2006.


Sudiegirl said...

What a great tribute!

Reading this reminds me of stories my mom would tell about living in Davenport, Iowa, in the '40s and '50s.

You remind me of her in your vivid reminiscences. That's pretty cool in my book.

At any rate, I am touched that you think my blog is worthy to read. You are the better writer by far.

Dani said...

While looking for traces of family on the internet, I happened across your lovely tribute to my grandfather. Thank you for showing me such a beautiful picture of the idyllic childhood you shared with him. He is missed.