Cover photo for Warren F. Willsey's Obituary
Warren F. Willsey Profile Photo
1926 Warren 2024

Warren F. Willsey

June 24, 1926 — April 16, 2024

Willsey, Warren F. “Mike” – East Berne 

Warren Francis Willsey “Mike” of East Berne passed away on April 16, 2024. 

He was born at the family farm in East Berne on June 24, 1926, and was sleeping in the room he was born in until he was recently hospitalized.  He used to say, “I still sleep in the room where I was born, but not with the same woman!”.

He was nicknamed “Mike” because, at four years old he proved to be as tough as old Mike the homeless farm hand who, during the depression, had wandered into east Berne looking for farmwork for food and room and board. He rolled cigarettes out of newspaper and brushed his teeth with scouring powder.  Nothing seemed to hurt the tough old guy.

The young Warren Willsey was nicknamed “Mike” because when playing with a milk separator, he noticed an intriguing little ridge of gear oil would form on the unprotected gears as he cranked it.  He decided to touch it and his finger was drawn instantly through the gears; he lost the tip of his index finger!  Remarkably, he didn’t cry. That was 94 years ago, and he is known as Mike to this day. He was actually named “Warren” after his uncle.

Mike was the son of Francis “Frank” Bolster Willsey and Millie Ball Willsey, both from families with very deep ancestral heritage in the Helderbergs.  Millie’s mother grew up on what is now Switzkill Farm and her father grew up on the Ball farm on the Switzkill (the creek nearby).  

Mike was the last of Frank and Millie’s nine children to survive. His brother David died at two years of age. All but one of his other seven siblings lived into their nineties like him. Longevity is a trait of the Ball family.

Mike enlisted in the Army Air Corps with his high school buddy Milton Hart in December of 1944 before they graduated. Upon graduation they entered the service, and after a while it was discovered that Milton’s eyesight didn’t meet the Air Corps requirements and he was moved to the infantry (missing the required basic training). 

As an Airplane Mechanic, Mike ended up maintaining idled aircraft for readiness as the European theater was winding down.  For all the months that Milton marched in campaigns like the liberation of concentration camps, Mike maintained aircraft for readiness, and many were then decommissioned or destroyed. He always felt his contribution to the war effort was minimal and felt he didn’t deserve VA benefits.  He strongly felt only those who saw combat or were wounded in action deserved the benefits. 

After the war, Mike married Whilma Wolford who lived on a farm near the Schoharie County line on Knox Gallupville Road.  (https://altamontenterprise.com/11162016/whilma-helen-wolford-willsey)

 Her family also has a very deep ancestral heritage in the Helderbergs and Schoharie County.  In fact, a very great grandfather, Daniel Wolford, had a farm in the 1700s on what is now Sawmill Road near the Ball / Willsey farm in East Berne.

 Whilma’s Brother Herbert became one of Mike’s best friends for life and he inherited the Wolford farm in Knox. They were both dairy farmers and were always very close.   Herbie and Mike were charter members of The Old Men of the Mountain. 

Mike and Whilma built up a herd of Holstien milk cows on the family farm in East Berne in the late 40s and early 50s.  They were among Milton’s regular customers at the feed mill in Berne. All of their children loved to visit Milton at the feed store (where Milton had candy hidden behind the counter).  A 7 oz bottle of coke out of the now famous Coke machine with the rotating top was always a treat.

One of Mike’s other best local friends was the renowned area neurosurgeon and decorated WW II veteran Dr. Stanley Ball. His father, also a doctor, owned a summer camp on Joslyn School Road nearby and the area was pretty desolate in the 1930s.  Stanley was a couple years older but had no one to play with there and began hanging out with Mike on the farm. They were friends to the end. Stanley attended many Willsey family reunions, and he was always considered family (it was just coincidence that his family name was Ball).

In the early sixties Mike faced the realization that continuation in the farming business would require debt that was not likely sustainable.  He transitioned out of farming selling the very productive, but small, herd and all equipment by 1965. 

He sold many of his cows to the Settle family farm on Knox - Gallupville Road where, coincidentally, his final daily home care giver, Debbie Settle, grew up. Mike knew her father and Uncle very well as fellow farmers and their farm was near Herbie Wolford’s farm.  Debbie and Mike grew very close as his health declined, and she very skillfully cared for him. 

Transitioning out of farming doesn’t sound like a big deal to those who didn’t grow up in a farm family, but it was devastatingly painful to drop farming and move on when the entire existence and perceived future of everyone in the family assumed the farm operation would always be a huge part of their lives. 

The transition required Mike to work numerous simultaneous jobs. Some while still milking cows twice a day.  Whilma became a fixture working at Duke’s Dairy Bar in East Berne while raising chickens for eggs, animals for the freezer and growing, canning, and freezing all the vegetables necessary to make it through each year.  She sewed clothes from scratch and ran a tight ship where housekeeping was concerned. These were incredibly driven, hard-working parents. Their example is now influencing a third generation, their great grandchildren. 

Dr. Ball’s father-in-law was the locally famous Joe Kulik, proprietor of the very popular Joe’s Delicatessen on Madison Avenue in Albany.   Mike worked there in the kitchen as he transitioned out of farming. Money was very tight then and “care packages” from Joe’s helped get the family through. 

Mike also worked with Ed Buchardt in his East Berne contracting business as an equipment operator, mason, carpenter etc.  He commuted to Oneonta to help build the new college campus there as an equipment operator driving his prized Studebaker Lark, an incredibly reliable and powerful car for the era. In 2003 he purchased a Chrysler 300. He always appreciated powerful cars. 

He worked with Charlie Haluska, another local contractor and helped build additions and houses and such as he transitioned from farming.

Mike also worked at the Walter Motor Truck Factory in Voorheesville where his mechanical skills learned on the farm and Air Corps were an asset. 

Mike worked at the State Campus as a snowplow operator while it was being constructed. 

He worked on Bridge Maintenance at the Thruway in the 1960s and was part of a bridge painting crew that lost a member in a fall.   He was promoted and was then responsible for all the fire extinguishers along the Thruway.  

Mike was an intelligent guy and was regularly promoted. By 1967 he was working for the state of New York as a travelling inspector in the Standards in Purchase Bureau at the Office of General Services. He commuted to Buffalo for a couple years. He was there when Niagara Falls was turned off for repair.  

He eventually took a promotion to a New York State OGS position in Surplus Property where he arranged for the auctioning of all kinds of State-owned machinery and vehicles. 

He later went back to the inspection unit at Office of General Services where, instead of inspecting, he was in charge of the Standards in Purchase Inspection Unit.  There he supervised a team of inspectors who traveled the state inspecting machinery and vehicles purchased under state contracts.  

Mike was very sociable, and he regularly organized dinner events and picnics in his supervisory role.  That promoted a very positive workplace.  He retired from the state in 1988 and has remained retired since.

In retirement he spent a lot of time woodworking for friends and family and developed and built a signature clock and gave away dozens and dozens of them.  They are distinctive and recognizable. His grand kids and great grandkids call them “Poppy Clocks”.  He gave one of his last clocks to Sherrif Craig Apple.

Mike was a fierce advocate for outdoor recreation and did a lot of hiking in his retirement.  He worked hard to get the Long Path through the area. He knew most of the old farmers at the time and he was an ambassador of sorts reaching out to landowners and securing permission for the trail across private properties. He volunteered a lot of time to help with trail maintenance and establishing alternative paths when necessary. 

Ed Walsh of the New York, New Jersey Trail Conference worked with Mike decades ago and said this about his efforts while expressing his condolences:

“Mike was instrumental in getting the Long Path established in Albany County. When we first met back in the 90s, he was the one that knew everybody, and he brought us to meet all his neighbors to tell them about the trail. Without him I think we would still be knocking on doors trying to get permission! He served as the Albany County Supervisor for a number of years and his service was appreciated. There was a volunteer event yesterday where I spoke and let everyone know your dad has died. He’ll be missed.”

He was also a supporter of the Frontier Sno-Riders snowmobile club granting permission across his property to establish their trail.  He never rode snowmobiles, but he recognized their efforts were very similar to his Long Path efforts.  He liked the people he dealt with and praised the organization.  That helped promote acceptance of their proposed trail making things a little easier for that organization too.  His opinions were revered locally. 

The Willsey family would like to express our gratitude for the compassionate and wonderful care Mike received from Debbie Settle, Betsy Blodget, St. Peter’s Hospital and The Baptist Health Nursing Home.  His care was exceptional.

“Mike” is predeceased by; His wife Whilma Wolford Willsey, his parents Frank B. Willsey and Millie Ball Willsey, brothers David Willsey, Robert Willsey (Marion), Wilford ”Bill” Willsey(Irene) Clyde “Ted” Willsey (Dorothy), and Charles Willsey (Sarah), his sisters Floy Willsey Behlmer, (George)  Doris Willsey O’ Brien (John) Rosemary, “Rusty” Willsey Flint (Arden)  and his daughter-in-law Elaine Colose Willsey (Survived by Warren, Ashley and Danielle) Mike is survived by his sister-in-law, Sarah “Sidge” Willsey (Charles)

Mike is also survived by his five children; Winifred Willsey Chartier (Gerry), Warren Willsey (Carol), Joel Willsey (Patty), Amy Willsey and Erin Willsey Bradt (Ray) Mike is survived by eight grandchildren;Rebecca Chartier-Hobson (Erin), Jesse Chartier (Kendra), Ashley Willsey Attoma (Anthony), Danielle Willsey Powers (Brian), Caitlin Willsey Rice (Jake), Graham Willsey (Chelsea), Dylan Willsey (Ashley) Rena Bradt, and step-grandson Ted King (son of Carol Willsey).Mike is survived by nine great grandchildren: Stevie Chartier (Jesse & Kendra), Julian Attoma (Ashley & Anthony), Jack Powers (Danielle & Brian), Nora & Gavin Rice (Caitlin & Jake), Hendrick & Concetta Willsey (Graham & Chelsea), Colden Willsey and his soon to be born sister Everly (Dylan & Ashley). 

 Family and Friends are invited to visit with Warren’s family on Saturday April 27th in the Fredendall Funeral Home, 199 Main Street, Altamont from 10am to 1pm. A funeral service will follow the visitation in the funeral home at 1pm. Interment immediately following the funeral service in Woodlawn Cemetery, Berne. 

In lieu of flowers kindly consider donations in Warren’s memory to the Helderberg Ambulance Service or the Wounded Warrior Project. 

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to the Fredendall Funeral Home, Altamont. 

 

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Warren F. Willsey, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation for Warren F. Willsey

Saturday, April 27, 2024

10:00am - 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Funeral Service for Warren F. Willsey

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Interment for Warren F. Willsey

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Guestbook

Visits: 827

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Send Flowers

Send Flowers

Plant A Tree

Plant A Tree