Willard “Bill” “Sheik” Conrath, 88, a lifelong resident of Belleville, IL, passed away on May 20, 2012, of natural causes. He had been in relatively good health.
Willard was born on November 20, 1923, the first son of John G. Conrath, at the time, assistant postmaster, and Helen A., nee Rudolph, Conrath. His older neighborhood friends pinned the lifelong nickname, “Sheik”, on him at the age of seven after his mother combed his hair back in the style of Rudolph Valentino, who starred in the movie of the same name. Sheik was known at St. Teresa’s School for his classroom antics and also for his love of sports.
He lost his father at the age of 13 while attending Cathedral High School, now known as Althoff. While Helen held the family of four together, Willard worked two jobs after school and on weekends to contribute to the welfare of his mother and three younger siblings. His love of sports continued, and he excelled on the high school basketball and football teams. He was guided by the Christian values of his mother and his Catholic upbringing at school.
After graduation in 1941, Bill was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was trained as a gunner on the B-17 and B-29 Bombers. Willard served in Amarillo, Texas, in Tucson, Arizona, and in northern New York. His flight crew was on orders to deploy overseas when the war ended. During his military years, Willard wrote home every day and went to church several times a week
Upon returning home, Bill and his brother John started their building business, which became known as Conrath Brothers Builders and Developers, a partnership that lasted more than fifty years. Among other endeavors, the Conrath Brothers were responsible for developing much of Chenot Place Subdivision.
Many will remember Willard for his prowess as a high diver at the local pools. He was the innovator of his signature clown dive known as “the screaming mi-mi.” His love of the water extended to his passion for sailing, water skiing, and exploring regional lakes and rivers on his boats. He was the life of many parties and family gatherings with his jokes and laughter and would frequently entertain with his electric guitar.
Willard was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years; his parents; a sister, Ruth Ann Conrath; a brother-in-law, Lee Wagner; and a sister-in-law, Aurelia Keeling.
He was a loving and devoted husband and father. Married to Anna L. Janosky of East St. Louis in 1953 until her passing in 2010, Bill and Anna raised five children, Frank, William, and Steven Conrath and Jeanne (Gary) Swain, all of Belleville, IL, and Gail Conrath (Stacy Ferguson) of Batavia, IL.
Willard is also survived by two grandchildren, Gary (Holly) Swain and Corey Swain;
three great-grandchildren, Cameron, Gwendolyn, and Cruise Swain;
his beloved sisters, Doris “Connie” Wagner and Shirley Lisch (Hans) Gebhardt;
dear brother, John H. (Mary Beth) Conrath;
and many special nieces and nephews.
The family wishes to extend a special thanks to Dr. Brad Ringhofer, Geraldine Cross, Willard’s special caretaker for over a year, and the other workers at Christian Health Care, and to the staff at Four Fountains.
Memorials may be made to the YMCA, to the National Parkinson Foundation, or to a charity of the donor’s choice. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at www.rennerfh.com.
Visitation: Friends may call from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home, Belleville, IL.
Funeral: Funeral procession will leave at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday, May 23, 2012, from the funeral home for a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Luke’s Catholic Church, Belleville, IL, with Msgr. David Darin officiating.
Burial with military honors will follow at Green Mount Catholic Cemetery, Belleville, IL.
Willard was truly a rare individual. He was very devoted to his wife and took care of her during her illness for many years. He was also very kind and very generous. Everyone who knew him will miss him, and that includes us. May the Lord have Mercy on his soul and grant Peace and Strength to his family. However, there is little doubt that he went straight to Heaven.
We also especially want to thank his dear brother John for being such a devoted brother - they were very close. This will be a very difficult time for him and we especially ask your prayers for John and his dear wife Mary Beth.
Vince & Judy Bemowski, Belleville, IL, 62223
RIP, MR C (SHEIK)WHO WAS A GREAT FRIEND TO MY OLDEST SON, EDWARD VOWELL(EDDIE) WHO WAS MENTORED BY MR CONRATH WHEN HE WAS YOUNG AND WAS FRIENDS WITH
THE CONRATH BOYS. ED HONORED MR C IN AN ARTICLE IN BND IN 2010 WHEN HE WAS INTERVIEWED ABOUT HIS DIPLOMATIC WORK WITH THE STATE DEPARTMENT IN AFGHANISTAN.
I KNEW MR C THRU MY SON AND HE WAS A GREAT HERO TO EDWARD. MY PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS WILL BE WITH ALL OF THE FAMILY;ESP, THE CHILDREN. ED IS IN WASH DC TILL SATURDAY. HE WILL BE VERY SAD WHEN I NOTIFY HIM THIS EVENING.
Dovie Vowell-Steele, Bellleville, IL, 62223
My wife and I each year help out a family where I teach. One of my role models were your parents, who were very kind to me when I was young. I will never forget their generosity to neighbor kids such as me. My family's prayers are with you today for the loss of such a great man.
Chuck Lugge, belleville, illinois, 62220
Uncle Bill was one of the most fun yet responsible people ever. He took me to my first NBA game ever when I was 10, and introduced our whole gaggle to water skiing. And he was always there for anyone in need. Just an amazing man.
Gary Lisch, Plano, TX, 75093
Uncle Bill was always someone to light up a room when he entered. He will be dearly missed and I'm sorry I can't be there with family in this time. There is comfort in knowing he lived a full and happy life!
Christine (Betz) Branum, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80922
To John and all others of the family feeling this loss... First off, please know that we enjoyed the obituary in today's BND more so than the one appearing yesterday, in that this one sums up more fully and accurately the life and persona of a guy we thought we knew pretty well. Another thing: we now have the answer to the question (never heard this before) as to the origin of his nicknme. Anyhow, we can appreciate the void now created, due to his upbeat outlook on life and his ability to see humor in just about any development. It could readily have been said of him that, given that streak in his makeup, he'll probably laugh at his own funeral. Not to be taken literally, of course, but if it happened it wouldn't be all that surprising. Sincerely, Betty&DonRice
Betty & Don Rice, Belleville, IL, 62223
John, Shirley and family members
of Willard "Sheik" please accept
my sincere sympathy for your loss of your wonderful brother.
Dorothy (Lopinot) Harris, Belleville, Il, 62223
John, Shirley and all family of
Willard "Sheik", please accept
my sincere sympathy for your loss. A wonderful person from a
wonderful family. My thoughts and prayers go out to you.
Dorothy (Lopinot) Harris, Belleville, Il, 62223
Willard was one wonderful fellow. He always greated you with smile and was full of antics but always a gentelman. He will be remembered in this household.We Are sorry we will not be able to attend.
Bob & Betty Bolt, Smithton, Il., 62285
Please accept my condolence's to all of the family!
Ronald Chaput, Belleville, Illinois, 62221
Aloha to Uncle John, Aunt Mary Beth, and the entire family,
What a guy! So full of fun, laughter, and mischief. He played a big part in both of our lives, and was an example of how to live with a smile. Please accept our condolences.
John and Nancy Theismann
, Pahoa, Hawaii, 96778
Dear Great Grandma (Hans), Aunty Connie, and the rest of Uncle Bill's ohana,
We heard so much about Uncle Bill, and we are sorry for your loss.
Dan, Maggie, Kai, and Maia Biegler
The Biegler Family, Keaau, Hawaii, 96749
Dear Conrath Family, you have my deepest sympathy on the loss of Willard. Heard many stories about the family growing up from my Mom (Dolore Dahm) and my grandma (Jennie Koch). It was always fun to listen to.I was Jody's roommate for a while and got to see him at family gatherings, which was always fun.
May Mr. Conrath rest in peace.
Susie Dahm Gray
Susie Dahm Gray, Swansea, Illinois, 62226
I grew up with Frank, John and
Bill. Heartfelt sympathy to the
entire Conrath family.
Paul Fink, Chattanooga, Tn, 37421
We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the Conrath Family. "Sheik" was one of the most personable guys I had ever met. He brought laughter wherever he went. May he rest in peace. Sorry we could not attend the wake.
Barney and LaVerne Elser, Swansea, IL, 62226
The Conrath Family
Our first landlord 45 years ago this year. Thanks for a wonderful experience. We always remember the kindest people from our past. Mr. Conrath was one of them.
Rocky and Betty Hasenstab, Waterloo, IL, 62298