Possessing the foresight to recognize the future of Sesser as a commercial center and the courage to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him, William A. Willis came to this city something less than seven years ago with but little capital other than shrewd business ability, and through wise investments has won himself a place among the substantial men of his adopted locality. Aside from being an extensive land owner he has acted in the capacity of postmaster of Sesser since becoming a citizen here, and in his administration of the government's affairs has proven himself an able official of a rapidly growing community. Mr. Willis was born in Jefferson county, Illinois, February 19, 1854, and is a son of Josiah and Anna Eliza (Cockrum) Willis.

Tolliver Willis, the grandfather of William A., was born in Tennessee, and came to Illinois with his family at an early day, the remainder of his life being spent here in agricultural pursuits. His son, Josiah Willis, was born in Jackson county, Tennessee, in 1824, and was a lad when brought to Jefferson county, Illinois. His mother dying when he was still a youth, he was bound out to a blacksmith at Edwardsville, Illinois, to learn the trade, and when the Civil war broke out he enlisted in Company A, One Hundredth and Tenth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, as regimental blacksmith, remaining in the service two years and ten months. On his return from the army he purchased a small farm, and continued to operate this and conduct a 'smithy' until his death in 1907. Mr. Willis had been an adherent of Democratic principles up to the time of the candidacy of Blaine and Logan, but at that time, owing to his intense admiration for General Logan, he became a Republican, and that party received his support during the remainder of his life. Josiah Willis married Anna Eliza Cockrum, daughter of Matthew F. Cockrum, a native of Kentucky, who became one of Franklin county's wealtiest and most highly esteemed citizens and left a large estate to his family at his death.

William A. Willis received few advantages of an educational nature in his youth, and his energies as a lad were devoted to tilling the soil of his father's farm and working in the blacksmith shop. Inheriting mechanical ability, he became a skilled blacksmith and something of a machinist, and for two years worked at the latter trade in Benton. Subsequently he removed to Tameroy, [Tamaroa?] and for the next five years was engaged in selling machinery for Alva Blanchard, and later followed the same line as a traveling salesman. In 1893 he purchased a farm in Jefferson county, and was engaged in farming until December 16, 1905, when he moved to Sesser. Mr. Willis was the first postmaster of Sesser, then a village still in its infancy, and the first day's cancellation of stamps amounted to twenty-two cents. That the business of the office has increased may be seen by the fact that the daily cancellations at this time amount to from five to ten dollars per day. As the business has advanced Mr. Willis has improved the service, and the courteous and obliging manner in which he discharges the duties of the office have made him popular with all who have met him in an official way, and the verdict is universal that no better man for the office could be found. While he has never been an office seeker, Mr. Willis has been tendered office by the people of his community in each section of which he has lived, and while residing in Jefferson county was supervisor of his township for eight years. Subsequently he was the Republican candidate for county treasurer, and the high esteem in which he was held by the voters of the county was shown when in that stronghold of Democracy he was defeated by only thirty-five votes. A popular member of the Odd Fellows, he 1219

has passed through all the chairs in that order. Mr. Willis has prospered in a financial way as a result of wise and far-seeing investment of his means, and he is now the owner of fourteen lots in Sesser, as well as four residences and a large business block, property in West Frankfort and an excellent farm in Jefferson county. His success has come as a result of his own efforts, and he is known as a man who while looking after his own interests has always been ready to support movements for the benefit of the city's interests.

In 1882 Mr. Willis was married to Miss Rachel Hawkins, of Perry county, Illinois, who died in 1888, and to this union one child was born: Velma, who is a trained nurse in St. Louis. Mr. Willis was married in 1903 to Mollie Hartley Kirkpatrick, and they have had three children: Lillian May and Russell V., who are in school; and William H.

Bio's Index