Don was born on July 9, 1928 in Waukegan, IL, to Charles and Myrtle VanOlst Willsie. He was raised in several Midwest towns and was a 1946 graduate of Maryville High School in Maryville. Don attended Northwest Missouri State University for two years before entering the Aviation Cadet program. He later earned a bachelor of science degree from University of Maryland.
Don’s 58 year marriage to Doris Julia McGinness began at Vance Air Force Base, Enid, OK. This launched an Air Force career that spanned over 28 years. During his stellar career, Don was a fighter pilot and instructor pilot flying F-86, F-94, F-101, F-102, and T-33 aircraft. When his flying career was cut short by an aircraft ejection injury, Don transitioned to air weapons controller and director where he served his country during the Vietnam War at the Monkey Mountain Facility near Da Nang and at Nakhon Phanom RTAB, Thailand. Other assignments included Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; Suffolk County AFB, New York; Giebelstadt, Germany; Duluth AFB, Minnesota; Kotzebue AF Station, Alaska; and FAA National Headquarters, Washington DC. Don concluded his Air Force career in 1980 at NORAD, Colorado Springs. During his career, he was awarded the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Air Force Commendation Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, among others. After finishing his Air Force career, Don worked for SAIC in Colorado Springs for over 10 years.
Anyone who knew Don, knows of his love for the game of tennis. One of his earliest experiences with tennis was when he served as a ball boy for the 1943 US Professional Lawn Tennis Championships in which Bill Tilden played. Don was a mainstay of umpiring activity in Colorado for over 30 years. He began officiating at the Lynmar Racquet Club and the Broadmoor Hotel in 1976. He continued officiating, training and mentoring new umpires, and scheduling umpires for Southern Colorado tournaments, and high school and college matches. He ended his umpiring career with Air Force Academy matches in 2017. Over the years, his support of grassroots tennis, both on-court and off, has been exemplary and serves as a positive role-model for new tennis umpires. Don was named Outstanding Tennis Umpire for 2006, awarded by USTA-Colorado at their annual gala. In 2013, he received the Nicholas E. Powel award which was presented at the US Open Tennis Championship in New York City. This award is the most prestigious annual national award for an official working at the local level. It only goes to one official in the entire country.
Don’s dedication and knowledge of tennis officiating culminated in his induction into the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame in 2016. This was in recognition of his lifetime accomplishments. Another passion was coaching tennis. He was a volunteer boys and girls tennis coach at Wasson High School in Colorado Springs from 1998-2005. Don coached three of his grandchildren to the state tournament.
Don was a devout Christian, a generous man, and a loving family man. He was an active member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs. For 24 years, he was a weekly volunteer at the Marian House Soup Kitchen. Don volunteered as the football commissioner for the Camp Springs Boys’ Club, Camp Springs, MD, from 1969-1971, reviving a program that was in need. In addition, he volunteered as a member of the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center’s Board of Directors. Known as “Granddad” to all, he delighted in spending time with family and teaching tennis to young and old on his backyard tennis court. His motto was: “Don’t Let Up, Hit Up.” Don was devoted to his four children, 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Don was preceded in death by his wife; parents; brother, Charles Robert Willsie; and sister, Shirley Willsie Lee. A granddaughter, Erin Carpenter, died in infancy.
He is survived by two brothers: Carroll ‘Pudge’ Willsie, Kansas City and Roger Willsie, Seattle, WA; three daughters: Vickie and James Porter, Cape Coral, FL, Sandra and Craig Carpenter, Fort Collins, CO and Nancy and Bob Harrison, Colorado Springs; and one son, Lt. Col (ret) James Willsie, Albuquerque, NM. His surviving grandchildren who loved him and were loved by him are: O’Ryan and Kelly Porter, King George, VA; Shawn and Kate Harrison, Greenwood Village, CO; Kaitlyn Willsie and Matt Altman, Chandler, AZ; Shane and Jennifer Porter, Prince Frederick, MD; Jenna Harrison and Sean Evans, Colorado Springs, Colleen Willsie and Daniel Jones, Disputanta, VA; Jennifer Carpenter and Nick Otto, Baudette, MN; Kevin and Caitlin Willsie, Shreveport, LA; Samantha Carpenter, Fort Collins, CO, Scott Carpenter, Fort Collins; and Jamie Harrison, Colorado Springs, CO. His 13 great-grandchildren were the light of his life; he was so proud he lived long enough to know them. They are: Emma Evans, Olivia Altman, Jackson Porter, Annlee Herren, Briar Evans, Logan Jones, Hannah Altman, Camden Harrison, Luke Jones, Charlotte Willsie, Braden Harrison, McKenna Porter, and Claire Willsie.
Don will be laid to rest with his beloved wife, Doris, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, CO. A celebration of life with military honors will be announced at a later date. The family is thankful for the professional and kind services provided by Abode Hospice of Colorado Springs and his dedicated and caring team of doctors. In lieu of flowers, the family wishes that memorials be made to the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center, 3254 Paseo Rd, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.