Reverend Donald Eugene Willingham was born on Sept. 4, 1931 in Matthews, Mo., to Wesley Willingham and Norma Phillips Willingham. He grew up in Southern Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Navy at sea and in Guam. While on a leave from the Navy, he met and married Helen Mitchelle in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Following the Navy, he attended Oakland City University where he received a bachelor's degree in Divinity and History. Don and Helen answered God's call to the mission field moving to Guam with their four small children. After returning from Guam, he accepted the position of director of foreign missions for the General Baptists. He continued pastoring and planting churches in southern Missouri and Florida, with his sweet, faithful wife Helen by his side. In their latter years they served in Jamaica, Honduras, and briefly in China as missionaries. In 2005, Don was conferred a Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Oakland City University.
Helen Loetta Mitchelle Willingham was born Jan. 6, 1932 in Poplar Bluff, Mo., to Otto Mitchelle and Maude Fredwell Mitchelle. Helen lived a quiet life on their family farm and graduated from Poplar Bluff High School. She met and married Don in 1952. While Don was in college, she kept a home and gave birth to four beautiful children. She and Don traveled the world doing the Lord's work while raising the children and continued faithfully serving God during their lives. Helen was a gifted organizer and worked as Don's assistant and true helpmate throughout his life. She also worked as a tax preparer and enjoyed being a grandmother.
Joint survivors include their children, Doug (Karen) of Houston, Texas, Dave (Elaine) of Buffalo, Mo., Stephen (Kate) of Miliken, Colo., Donna (Chris, deceased) Fedor of Springfield, Ill. They have ten grandchildren whom they loved dearly, Krista, Mark, Elisa and Drew Willingham, Anna Craig, Daniel and Vanessa Willingham, Michael and Stacie Fedor, and Sarah (Troy) Maurer. They also had one great-grandchild, Kristopher Washington.
Don is survived by brothers James Willingham (Betty), Indian Wells, Calif.; Jay Willingham (Sherron), Indian Wells, Calif., and Phillip McGill, Paducah, Ky. He had four sisters, Bonnie Melton (Jim), Hawaii, Frankie Wyatt, Oregon, Rowina Wilburn (James), Murray, Ky., and Mary Linda Mayall (Lynn), Mayflower, Ark.
Helen is survived by a brother, Otto Mitchelle (Cindy), Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and sisters, Marilyn Edwards (Virgil), Deslodge, Mo., and Rosetta Christian (Myron), Poplar Bluff, Mo.
They were preceded in death by their parents; Don's beloved step-mother, Deanie; Don's brother, Howard Willingham; and son-in-law, Chris Fedor.
Don and Helen's legacy will live on through the thousands of lives they affected throughout the world. They loved the Lord and never failed to answer His call on their lives.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 2, 2011 at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, under the care of Gorman-Scharpf Brentwood Chapel.
Burial will be in the Missouri Veterans Cemetery. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, 2011 at Ridgecrest Baptist Church.
The family requests that memorial gifts be sent to the General Baptist International Missions, 101 Stinson Drive, Poplar Bluff, Mo. 63901-8746.