John Swainson Willis | Passages

October 25, 1939 – September 20, 2019

John S. Willis passed away on September 20, 2019 at age 79, following severe heart problems.

John was born on October 25, 1939 in Bellingham, WA, but raised on the family homestead on Orcas Island. John loved fishing, boating, hunting and pretty much anything outdoors, but above all else, he loved Orcas Island and Woodside Farm. John lived at the farm his entire life leaving only for a commitment to the US Air Force during the Vietnam War.

John was grounded in nature. He spent many years working for Washington State DNR as a San Juan County fire warden, where he was able to incorporate his passion for boating. He and his father operated a sawmill on Woodside Farm, creating lumber for Orcas construction projects. Later, he cut and delivered tons of firewood for residential heating. It was while delivering an order of this firewood that his brakes failed, and his truck collided with a tree. He was injured and spent several months in a body cast. He was eventually able to walk, but the accident left him with his signature limp.

If you spent any summers in Moran State Park, you may have heard John come through with a shout of ‘firewood for sale’. Each night of the summer season, he would drive through the park, often with an eager young niece, nephew or cousin assisting him, delivering firewood to campsites. John never met a stranger, and he developed many lifelong friendships during his drives through the park.

John also enjoyed giving back to the community he loved so much. Until the last few months of his life, he kept daily weather records, upholding a tradition started by his great-grandfather in 1890. Over the years, he served as a volunteer Fireman, a docent and board member of the Orcas Island Museum, a member of the American Legion, and volunteered for the burial detail at the Olga Cemetery. In the later years, became active in the Youngren Fishery Project, a volunteer project to ‘Save the Kings’ (

His primary love was Orcas Island, but he did travel, making trips to Florida, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington DC and even Spain.

John is survived by his sisters: Dorothy Lundquist and Elizabeth (Betty) Marcum of Olga. He was preceded in death by sisters: Judy Slater and Mary Fox; numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, and local youngsters will also miss their Uncle John.

The Willis family invites everyone to a celebration of John’s life with Military Honors on Oct. 5 at the Orcas Island Community Church at 2 p.m. with a reception to follow. Burial will be at the Olga-Doe Bay Cemetery at a date yet to be determined.

John touched many lives. He always had a story to tell, and now the family would like to hear your stories about him. There will be a limited amount of time at the celebration to share your memories, but we also encourage you send them by email to the Orcas Island Museum at and share on the Evans Funeral Chapel site or the Orcas Memorial Facebook page.

The family requests that any contributions be directed to the Orcas Island Museum (PO Box 134, Eastsound, WA. 98245) or toward the efforts of moving the Olga Post Office to the Olga Store building (Island Stewards at PO Box 21, Olga WA 98279). To share memories of John, please sign the online guestbook at