CHARLESTON, IL – Willa M. Ashby, age 91 of Charleston, passed away peacefully at her Arbor Rose home on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. A private family visitation will be held followed by a committal service at Roselawn Cemetery in Charleston. A memorial service, celebrating her life, will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorials in her honor may be made to the Five Mile House Foundation and mailed in care of Adams Funeral Chapel, 2330 Shawnee Drive, Charleston, IL 61920 or online at fivemilehouse.org.
Willa was born December 22, 1928, in Humboldt Township, a daughter of William Earl and Grace (Speck) Rennels. She was always proud of her heritage and her relationship to the Rennels family that first settled in the Charleston area. She attended the Tinch School in rural Humboldt Township through the eighth grade and graduated from Humboldt Community High School in May of 1945. Following graduation, she enrolled at Eastern Illinois University and attended for a year until she married Harold M. Ashby on September 28, 1947 at the First Christian Church in Charleston. She became a homemaker and farmer’s wife, working alongside Harold on the farm. She later returned to Eastern to earn a B.S. in Education in 1971 and completed her Master’s in Education in 1976. During that time she lost her husband of 25 years as Harold passed away on May 13, 1973. Willa taught fifth and sixth grades at Jefferson Elementary School for 22 years, before retiring in 1994.
Willa was a woman of faith, being baptized at the Walnut Grove Christian Church. She was involved in the Charleston community with organizations such as the Five Mile House Restoration, Pioneer Families of Coles County and the annual Rennels Reunion. She gave countless hours volunteering with the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center Guild and Charleston Food Pantry. She found great joy in attending Elderhostels and traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad. She witnessed magnificent sites in all fifty states as well as in Europe, China, England, Ireland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Canada, Columbia, Panama and Costa Rica. She was blessed to have a group of friends who were fellow teachers. Several have since passed but Betty Simon, Mary Lou Gaskill, Nancy Garner and Nancy Curran still remember the birthdays celebrated, eating out, watching basketball games, playing cards, shopping and traveling together. Willa enjoyed the company of her cats, loved going to auctions - collecting all sorts of things, and gardening. Researching her genealogy and other computer activities always held her interest and kept her busy.
Willa received the blessings of a wonderful and loving family. Surviving are her children, Michael H. Ashby and wife Marlene Davis Ashby of Carol Stream, Illinois, Kevin P. Ashby and wife Doris Ann of Charleston, Illinois, Janet L. Homa and husband Patrick of Marana, Arizona and J. Vincent Ashby of Nashville, Tennessee. In addition she has ten grandchildren, Chad M. Ashby and wife Michelle, Rachel Ashby Pearcy, Jennifer M. Uhlmann and husband Jason, Elizabeth Ann Ashby Copsy and husband Michael, Julia Steinmetz, Jamie Steinmetz and husband Marco Galvin, Japeth Ashby, Lindsay Churchill and husband Brad, Cristina Ashby and Michael Acosta; and twenty great-grandchildren, Jacob Uhlmann, Olivia Ashby Uhlmann, J.T. Uhlmann, Ellie Rose Ashby, Grace Jane Ashby, Lillian Elizabeth Ashby, Daisy Elaine Ashby, Violet Ashby, Willa Rose Ashby, Nidia Ashby, Tatum Copsy, Gentry Copsy, Tristan Copsy, Corey Diltz, Emily Ashby, Leo Galvin, Teo Galvin, Chloe Diebold, Connor Diebold, and Grayson Churchill. Her sister, Nadine Tooley of Morris, Illinois also survives. In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded in death by a daughter-in-law, Cheryl Ashby; two sisters, Dorothy Nolte and Mary Coutant, and her brother, Jack Rennels.
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