Walter Jessen passed away recently. He was living in Florida at the time but like so many of us he spent a great deal of his life in Illinois and then decided to live the balance of his life in Douglas County.
Walter was a husband to three wonderful women, each of which we were privileged to know. He raised three sons with his first wife, Ethel, who was a valued business partner as well as wife and mother, and it was through her that we came to know Walter.
After Ethel passed away, Walter, along with Faye who would someday marry Walter, started and continued the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program which seeks to provide monetary assistance to cancer victims only in our local area.
Walter married twice after Ethel’s passing. He and Faye met and grew together as a result of sharing their mutual losses of life partners. Faye brought Walter into another family and was responsible for taking Walter out of his depression and showing him that life had a lot left to offer him.
And then, tragically, Faye also passed away and Walter once again experienced a paralyzing loss. But, in the depths of that loss, Walter met Shirley and found another loving, kindred spirit who was willing to share herself and her life with him and once more Walter entered a new family.
Five or six years ago Shirley and Walter moved from Douglas County to Florida when they attained an age where each of them could use some help in their everyday lives. Shirley’s son made the arrangements for that move and we heard, for the most part, that the transplantation worked out well for both of them.
After they had lived in Florida for a relatively short time, Shirley passed away. At that time, we began to speak with Walter on a weekly basis right up to the end of his life. He was more optimistic and lighter than I would have expected from a guy who had experienced so much loss. But each time that loss arrived, a star shone on his horizon that eventually assuaged much of his pain.
Although I, for sure, do not know anything about it, I suspect the living arrangements in Heaven are, to say the least, interesting, and probably very enjoyable for everyone involved – especially Walter!
Walter was a very conservative citizen. We had many spirited discussions outlining each of our views on life and politics, and as is so often the case when persons of good will have such discussions, our goals were frequently very similar – although our ideas as to how those goals should be secured often differed greatly.
Walter was a superb craftsman – carpenter, electrician, plumber, mason, etc. I worked for him when I was looking to pick up some residential construction training that has since been immensely helpful as I go about building our home. He built and remodeled homes all over the Douglas County area, including his own. He built a health center that many of us continue to use for medical assistance. He built a church at which many of us worship.
Walter had a lot to do with the DOCO Sheltered Workshop in our area as well as many other community projects that benefitted from his loyalty and drive – for example, he was a member of the American Legion for over 60 years! And I have yet to see a plaque on any wall commending his service in our community.
Walter the expert builder, Walter the cook and baker, Walter the fun-loving traveler, Walter the community service sparkplug, Walter the responsible father, Walter the reliable spouse – Walter was quite a guy.
The lessons I took from Walter are many, from instruction in the trades to political tolerance, to the definition of “our values”, to being shown how going on in the face of devastating loss can open up new paths that might have been missed had depression and paralysis been allowed to remain. And, without a doubt, he would have shaken his head and demurred had anyone suggested him as a role model.
A more comprehensive rendition of Walter’s life and accomplishments can be found in the 21 January 2021 edition of the Douglas County Herald.
There will be a Memorial Service for Walter Jessen at the Ava Cemetery on Sunday, 11 April 2021, at 1:00 pm. Since he has been away from Ava for several years and many of his contemporaries have preceded him, there may not be many present at the service celebrating Walter’s life.
We will be there.