Wilbur Van Horn.jpgMSU President's Newspaper Column

March 26, 2022

Farewell to a beloved role model, my dad

At the top of the list of my life’s greatest blessings is having outstanding parents who served as role models for how life should be lived. My parents set the bar high and modeled all the admirable qualities to which a person could aspire. I will be forever grateful.

Mom passed away last summer, and in the months following, my dad, Wilbur, better known as “Pop,” experienced declining health. He passed away at the age of 95 on Saturday evening, March 12, 2022, at his home of 56 years in Benton, Ill.

Dad was a loving son, devoted husband and father, and an amazing grandfather. He was known to be a simple man: genuine, honest, loving, hard-working, social, a teacher, and a role model to many. He was a man of integrity, a gentleman in every sense of the word.

He employed and mentored many youths who needed summer jobs at his roofing company, which he and my mom, Winnie, owned and operated for nearly 50 years. They built the business from the ground up. Pride, honesty, and determination were the basis of their work.

Together with their family members and friends, Mom and Dad enjoyed their farm in Vienna, Ill. The “farm” was the oasis Dad created for his family. He spent countless weekends driving the Case or the John Deere 720 tractor, bush-hogging, cutting and tagging thorns, hunting, raising cattle, and taking family members on wagon rides. The “farm” was Dad’s happy place, and it’s mine too. I will always treasure the memories of the time we spent together there.

My dad was a World War II veteran. He served in the Naval Air Transportation Service (NATS), a specialized air transport established in response to the needs at Pearl Harbor. He spent the majority of his tour in Guam. He was proud of his service and was honored to have served our country.

Supporting the community where he lived was important to my dad. He was a member of numerous lodges, clubs, and organizations throughout southern Illinois. The American Legion, Benton Elks Lodge #1234, Eagles, Moose Lodge, Benton Bocce Ball Club, Benton Ranger Booster Club, and the Masons were among the organizations he supported. He assisted in establishing the original Shrine Motor Pool, and at the time of his death, he was the oldest living member of Elks Lodge #1234, American Legion Post #280, and VFW Post #2671.

Mom and Dad were avid fans and supporters of the Benton Rangers basketball program and rarely missed a game. I could always count on them to be cheering from the stands when I played ball. They encouraged me to work hard and always do my best, on and off the courts and fields.

Dad loved baseball, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a baseball statistical expert. It was only natural that I would pursue baseball throughout elementary and secondary school, as well as in college.

It was an absolute thrill for me to have Dad join in the festivities of my inauguration as Mayville State’s president in 2019. The inauguration was held the Friday before the annual Farmers Bowl celebration, so Dad was able to take part in all that the event entailed. I was honored to lead the Farmers Bowl parade driving Harlan Johnson’s vintage John Deere tractor and to have Dad following me on Shane Orr’s antique John Deere. I want to always remember the picture in my mind … Dad moving down the parade route proudly donning his WW II veteran commemorative cap and Mayville State windbreaker, driving a John Deere (his favorite color of green), and smiling the biggest smile as he waived to those who lined the streets. It seems like a little bit of heaven right here on earth.

Though Dad never lived in or visited Mayville, North Dakota prior to my arrival, he came to have a sincere appreciation for the community and the people who call it “home.” Our community replicates the best virtues that Dad stood for: taking care of one another, treating each other with respect, working very hard, and mentoring young people to help them learn and find success. These qualities make us both Comet Proud!

While it is extremely difficult to say farewell to someone who has been an integral part of my life, I celebrate the gift of being the son of someone who lived life so well. Dad and I talked every day, sometimes many times a day. I will miss that terribly, but I am grateful for each and every time we talked, for every moment we spent together, and for cherished memories and lessons learned through someone who taught all who knew him what goodness is all about.