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Roland Willis '53 November 29, 2021 11:53 AM updated: November 29, 2021 2:12 PM

Roland Ray Willis
Sunday, August 28, 1932 - Monday, November 15, 2021

Roland Ray Willis passed away on Monday, November 15, 2021, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Funeral services will be held Monday, November 29, 2021 at 2 p.m. at Strode Funeral Home and services will be live streamed on Roland’s obituary page at

Roland was born on August 28,1932 in Knox City, Texas, to Ray and Sunie (Warren) Willis in the midst of the Dust Bowl. His life’s work later became protecting the soil and natural resources through his work in the Soil Conservation Service.

Roland attended grades one through twelve in Knox City, graduating high school in 1949. While in high school, Willis participated in 4-H and football and during his senior year played in the first Texas all-state, six-man game. Additionally, during high school Willis worked in his father’s feed store, grocery store and cotton farming.

Roland enrolled in Texas A&M University where he participated in ROTC. While in college Willis belonged to Future Farmers of America and the Agronomy Club. He graduated in 1953, with a degree in agronomy and a minor in military science.

Following his graduation from Texas A & M, Roland Willis was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. After completing an active-duty tour, Willis continued in the Reserves and reached the rank of Captain before being honorably discharged.

Roland married the love of his life, June Gleghorn, in Conroe, Texas on July 2, 1953. Together, they welcomed three daughters, Elesa, Nancy, and Wanda, over their early years of marriage. In the first six years of married life the family moved six times. Willis had started with the USDA Soil Conservation Service [SCS] as a student trainee in 1952 and after graduation he moved into a range conservationist position and later a soil conservationist. As he moved up within SCS, he relocated the family a number of times, including a stint in Indiana where he served as Assistant State Conservationist for Operations. Each move brought the family back closer to their home state of Texas.

The family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, in 1972 when Willis was appointed Deputy State Conservationist for Oklahoma. With support from the Soil Conservation Service, Willis completed a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in public administration. In 1975 he was appointed State Conservationist for Oklahoma, a position he held until retiring in 1987. As State Conservationist, he oversaw the upstream watershed program, the soil survey program, the Great Plains Conservation Program, and various other programs. With credit for his military service, Willis retired from the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resource Conservation Service) with thirty-five years of federal service.

Over the course of his career, Willis received several recognitions and was always quick to acknowledge others for his success. In 1977 Willis received honorary membership in Oklahoma’s 4-H in recognition of his contributions. In 1983 he was awarded the Superior Service Award given by the United States Department of Agriculture. He served as president of the Soil Conservation Society of America for the 1984/1985 term, a position elected by his peers. Additionally, in 1988 Willis received the President’s Award given by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

Roland will long be remembered as “The Penny Man” as he distributed hundreds of cross-stamped pennies to friends and people he met. He would always say, “This penny is not for good luck; it is a blessing.” And he was a blessing to all.

Roland was preceded in death by his parents, Ray and Sunie Willis, and daughter Elesa Willis. He is survived by his wife June, daughters Nancy Willis and Wanda Willis Clark.

Memorials in Roland’s memory may be made to Cross Penny Ministries, 277 White Road E., Texarkana, TX 75503, or to the Soil and Water Conservation Society, 945 SW Ankeny Road, Ankeny, IA 50023,

Condolences may be sent to the family at



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