September 21, 2014

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Columbia Station couple remembered at vigil

Denise Chismar, a family friend of Jolene Willis, holds Nick Willis, 7, during a memorial service Wednesday for his parents at Columbia Station VFW Post 9340. The couple was killed in a motorcycle crash on Sunday, leaving behind five children. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Denise Chismar, a family friend of Jolene Willis, holds Nick Willis, 7, during a memorial service Wednesday for his parents at Columbia Station VFW Post 9340. The couple was killed in a motorcycle crash on Sunday, leaving behind five children. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

COLUMBIA STATION — Motorcycle crash victims Jolene and Robert Willis Jr. died doing what they loved.

Friends and family of the Willises at a Wednesday memorial said the couple loved to ride and were frequently on the go.

“I always referred to them as a couple of matches,” said Robert Willis Sr., father of Robert Willis. “They were lit and they burned all day long, 24 hours a day. They just kept going. They just never ran out of energy.”

The Willises died about 5:45 p.m. Sunday when they struck a Chevrolet Equinox head-on at a sharp curve in front of 36781 Grafton Road, about a half-mile north of Mennell Road. The three occupants of the Equinox were not seriously injured.

Police said Robert Willis rode left of center. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

The charter signs at the Columbia Station Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9340 were draped in black in memory of Robert and Jolene Willis.

The charter signs at the Columbia Station Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9340 were draped in black in memory of Robert and Jolene Willis.

About 150 people gathered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9340, 25742 Royalton Road, where Robert Willis Jr., was senior vice commander. The younger Willis was a Marine master sergeant with the Reserve 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in Brook Park.

The 37-year-old joined the Marines in 1994 and was planning to retire in June, according to his father, a retired Marine and Vietnam War combat veteran. The younger Willis was nicknamed “Spaz” for his hyperactive personality.

Willis was a Bronze Star winner and infantry unit leader who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Marc Chismar, a retired Marine who served with Willis in Iraq. Chismar said Willis was a “consummate professional” as a soldier.

“He was one hell of a leader,” Chismar said. “Lots of people were willing to follow him.”

Jolene Willis, 37, was a member of the post auxiliary and sometimes tended bar there, according to Edward Stephan, post chaplain. The couple is survived by five children: Patrick, 18; Alissa, 17; Ashley, 12; Nick, 7; and Connell, 5.

Marine Staff Sgt. Lopaz Swain, who served with Willis at Brook Park, said Jolene Willis was a loving mother and supportive wife. Swain said being a Marine’s wife is always difficult when the husband is serving in a war. “She did it pretty well,” Swain said.

A flag was raised at Columbia Station VFW Post 9340 in honor of Master Sgt. Robert Willis and his wife Jolene.

A flag was raised at Columbia Station VFW Post 9340 in honor of Master Sgt. Robert Willis and his wife Jolene.

Jolene and Robert Willis were both from southern California and moved to Columbia Station in 2011 when he was assigned to the Brook Park base. Post members said the Willises quickly made friends due to their outgoing personalities, but Robert Willis was always serious about ensuring that post events were run professionally.

Many at the memorial were motorcyclists, including about a dozen members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. Some crowd members hugged and cried during the memorial, which included a three-volley rifle salute, the playing of taps and the lowering of the flag.

The Willis children attended the memorial. They will be moving to Ponder, Texas, about 40 miles outside of Dallas, to live with Lori Busch, Jolene Willis’ sister, according to Robert Willis Sr.

He said his son had been planning to move the family to Texas after retiring from the Marines.

“They’ve never had a permanent home,” Willis said of his grandchildren. “Hopefully, they can get it now.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

Victims Fund

A fund has been established for the five children of fatal crash victims Jolene and Robert Willis. Donations can be made at FirstMerit Bank, 25742 Royalton Road, Columbia Station. For more information, call (440) 236-3400.


  • Kelley Hodge Creasy

    RIP Robbie and Jolene….you brought such joy and sunshine to everyone. Love you both. “Aunt” Kelley

  • David Markham

    Please….. Bronze Star WINER ? One does NOT WIN any medal, and surly the so called writer of this article “Evan Goodenow” Should know this by now, after 12 long hard years of War.

    A Military Person EARNS a Bronze Star, and every other medal. “Evan Goodenow” you are either a very liberal person or just incredibly stupid, Most likely both. Considering this being Ohio. This is why liberals should not ever cover any story about the Military.

    Does this seem over the top angry ? You bet I am. I have the highest respect for ALL of our incredibly heroic Men, and Women of OUR United States Service Personnel.

    HOOAH ! ! !

    • jz

      Absolutely right. Where are the editors? How can someone whom we presume has a college degree not know that.

    • Pete

      David, it is sad that that is all you could say about the article. You are no doubt an incredibly stupid person. As a veteran, I am embarrassed by your comment and would appreciate you thinking before opening your mouth again. My prayers go out to the families of this tragic accident, from a son, father, biker, and vet.

      • David Markham

        Pete, I don’t know the folks, it is sad. My point was about the EARNING (WINNING) of a medal that he most likely risked his life for. Pete you are a Knucklehead ! And as for YOU being a Veteran, YEAH RIGHT, A Veteran is a person that has enlisted in the service of The United States Of America, Not R.O.T.C. in high school. If you were a Veteran, “The winning” statement should have set you off. You see we Real true Veterans, are very opposed to ignorant Reporters, and well the general ignorance of people such as yourself that thinks attacking a Informed Veteran, trying to correct a person playing a professional reporter, and writing about the honor of earning, and receiving a Bronze Star. And I understanding the GREAT Sacrifice that This Marine had given to the Men, Women of his group in the United States Marines, his Family and The United States of America! And you are all prissy because I Did not publicly state my own sorrow for the great loss, of These Heroes, and the loss to there Family. I’ll pray, and mourn in my own private way. I do believe you are the first knuckle dragger to scold me for not mourning to there standard. I have been too way too many Military Memorials, and Funerals. I would have been honored to have gone to Master Sergeant’s Willis, and his Wife’s Vigil, But I did not know it was happening.
        Staff Sergeant David W. Markham Retired
        HOOAH ! !

        • Pete

          No, a true vet would have payed more attention to the meaning of the article. Maybe you are so bitter due to the fact you couldn’t cut it. Have you noticed that you’re the only whiny so called vet?

          • Simon Jester

            And any real vet doesn’t play that card in petty local newspaper comment sections.

            A DD 214 doesn’t make you any less of an a$$hole, Pete.

          • Jacob Arnett

            I’m with Pete on this one. You and Dave are grade A morons

        • Godfather

          David you make me sick. Vets like you need to go back into your smelly dungy apartment and watch bonanza re-runs.

    • Godfather

      You need to calm down and shut your face.

      This is not the time or place you moron.

    • Jacob Arnett

      Whoa…slow your roll hard charger. Wipe the froth off your mouth and try to leave assumptions about politics out of a story meant to remember the family that has been taken from us far too soon. I am mutual friends with several Marines (and served with a few) that know this couple and I hope their kids and family do not come to this article and have to read your nonsense. You’re an embarrassment and I’d advise you to NOT speak on behalf of veterans in such a manner. We don’t expect reporters to get 100% of the things right about the military 100% of the time. Now go take a timeout and regain your bearing. RIP MSGT Willis and Mrs. Willis. Semper Fi – OIF combat vet (’05) PSC Iraq (08-11) Afghanistan (11-Present)

  • luvmytoaster

    How sad, I only hope that their children can recover from this tragedy…..

  • http://batman-news.com Roy

    God Speed.

  • LibertarianBob

    Does anyone know where a person could make a donation to the family? Thanks.
    As a fellow rider, this story makes my heart sick. Prayers to the family.

    • http://batman-news.com Shannon

      The family has set up a fund for Robbie and Jojo’s kids. here is the site for the fund: http://www.gofundme.com/87gwpw Thank you for wanting to donate to my best friends children. Any little bit will help them out so much.

  • James Van Raden

    Robert & Jolene will be missed! I was Robert’s section leader in his first infantry unit. I can remember when he and Jolene first met and as you can see it was a match made in heaven as where these two blessed souls will rest. RIP Robert & Jolene and peace be with those of us you have left behind. I salute you Robert and Jolene for your sacrifice to your country as well as to one another. You will not ever be forgotten.

    • Sharon Curlee Turnbow

      A Benefit has been set up for the children of Robert & Jolene Willis. For more details go to Facebook page Willis Marine Benefit or website http://www.willismemorialbenefit.com.