Mel Willits
Harry "MEL" Willits

July 27, 1930 - April 12, 2019
Born in Iowa
Resided in Urbandale, Iowa
  • Contat Us
  • Guestbook
  • Photos
  • Services
  • Send Flowers


Harry Melvin “Mel” Willits, formerly of Waukee, passed away at Glen Oaks Alzheimer's Special Care Center in Urbandale on April 12, 2019 at the age of 88.

Mel was born on July 27, 1930, in Russell, Iowa to Harry George Willits and Marvel Kalista (Gookin) Willits. Mel's father died of spinal meningitis when Mel was five years old, and his mother devoted the rest of her life to the support of her family, never remarrying.

Mel graduated from Chariton High School in 1948. He enrolled at Drake University on an athletic scholarship and was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He met Mary Lou Nash of Oskaloosa at Drake and they were married in 1950. Together, they raised two sons, Jim and Bob, and a daughter, Peggy.

With periods of time, out for service in the U. S. Army and Iowa Army National Guard, Mel received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Drake in 1954, and began his pursuit of a lifetime of military service, artistic endeavors and community service.

Mel served for 24 years in the U. S. Army and the Iowa Army National Guard, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Guard in 1974 and retiring at the rank of Major in the U. S. Army in 1990. He taught for many years in the officer training program at the Iowa Military Academy at Camp Dodge, where he was the Academy's first Director of Instruction and taught Land Navigation. His years of military service were, by his own description, the best years of his life. A true patriot, he loved his country and his family in equal measure.

In the years following his graduation from Drake University, he served as Contracts Administrator at Solar Aircraft; Production Manager at National Handcrafts Institute; Planning and Management Consultant at Batten, Batten, Hudson and Swab, where he co-authored the book “Developing a Tough-Minded Climate for Results” published by the American Management Association; and Account Executive at Wesley Day Advertising Agency. A long-time member of the Disciples of Christ Church, he accepted a request to take a leave of absence from his job at Batten in 1964 to serve as Business Administrator at University Christian Church in Des Moines for a period of 18 months. Mel's long career as a leading voice for Iowa hospitals began in 1971 when he joined the Iowa Hospital Association as Director of Public Affairs, and he progressed over the next twelve years to Vice-President, Senior Vice-President and Executive Vice-President of the Hospital Association and as President and CEO of the Iowa Hospital Education and Research Foundation. In 1983 he joined the Hospital Association of Greater Des Moines and served as its President and Chief Executive Officer until his retirement in 1995.

In 1992, Mel married Norene Jacobs, and he welcomed Norene's daughter Stephanie into his family circle. Mel and Norene established their home in Waukee, where they enjoyed many years of hosting gatherings of family and friends and the tranquility of life on Southfork Lake.

Among his civic and volunteer activities were membership on the Iowa Arts Council for five years and service as Chair of the Iowa Arts Council for two terms by appointment of Governor Robert Ray; teaching sculpture classes at the Des Moines Art Center; service on the Boards of Directors of Polk County Health Services, Community Focus,

Wilkie House, Red Cross, Central Iowa AIDS Project and Heartland Bioethics Center; membership on the Drake University National Advisory Board for the College of Arts and Sciences; Committee Chairmanships for the Downtown Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Hospice of Central Iowa and the Mayor's Task Force on HIV/AIDS; and in his retirement, service on the City of Waukee Comprehensive Planning Advisory Committee and the Waukee Planning and Zoning Commission. He was a Life Member of the American Legion Waukee Chapter and an unabashed Life Member of the National Rifle Association.

His hobbies and guilty pleasures included flying, fulfilling his dream in retirement to take flying lessons and obtain a Recreational Pilot License; rowing a racing shell on Gray's Lake and the Des Moines River for many years with his dear friend David Ramsey; gardening and landscaping as both an Accredited Master Gardener and Certified Landscape Design Critic; and sketching and painting in his home studio throughout his lifetime.

Mel is survived by his wife, Norene; two sons, James (Diana) and Robert (Tracy), both of Windsor Heights; a daughter, Margaret “Peggy” (Tom) Burke of West Des Moines; a stepdaughter, Stephanie (Gary) Lawhon of Omaha NE; three grandsons, Colin Burke and James “Jake”(Taylor) Burke, both of Chicago IL, and Lucas Willits (Windsor Heights); three granddaughters, Courtney Willits of Chicago IL, Ashley Willits of Windsor Heights and Emma Willits of Windsor Heights; two step-grandsons, Tony Lawhon (Charleston, SC) and Todd (Brittany) Lawhon (Beaufort, SC); two step-great-grandsons, Mikah and Jaxson Lawhon (Beaufort, SC); and his faithful canine companion of 16 years, Yang. Mel was preceded in death by his parents, by his sister, Margaret Willits, and by his dog Yang's litter mate, Yin, who was the apple of Mel's eye and was lost to renal failure in 2008.

The family wishes to express its most sincere gratitude to the staffs of Glen Oaks Alzheimer's Special Care Center and Suncrest Hospice for their loving and highly competent care of Mel throughout his long illness. They were simply wonderful in every respect. A visitation with the family will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, April 22 at Dunn's Chapel at 2121 Grand Avenue in Des Moines and a memorial service will follow at 11:00 a.m. at Dunn's Chapel.

The memorial service will be followed by interment with military honors at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery located at Interstate Highway 80 Exit 113, where Mel personally arranged to be placed to rest with his brothers and sisters in arms. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to the Alzheimer's Association or to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, the United Service Organizations (USO), or the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.





Dunn's Funeral Home
2121 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50312
Monday, April 22, 2019
10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Order flowers for Harry

Guaranteed delivery before Harry 's visitation begins.

Dunn's Funeral Home
2121 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50312
Monday, April 22, 2019
11:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Order flowers for Harry

Guaranteed delivery before Harry 's service begins.


Animal Rescue League Of Iowa
5452 NE 22nd Street
Des Moines, IA 50313