Mary Kay Willets, 1922-2013: Toledoan inspired German dancers

Mary Kay Willets.
Mary Kay Willets.

Mary Kay Willets, 90, who inspired and kept costumed a folkloric dance troupe that for decades was a mainstay of the German-American Festival, of which her late husband, Robert, was a co-founder, died on Monday in her West Toledo home.

She had Alzheimer's disease for about seven years, her son, Jeff, said.

Mrs. Willets helped start Deutsche Trachten Gruppe, and she designed and made the costumes for the ensemble of 15 or more women dancers.

“Mary Kay was just an inspiration to all of us,” said Paulette Sherline, who belonged to the group. “She was such a go-getter and a motivator. She knew how to get people to do things — and she loved to dance.”

She was unable to take part in the dance group for several years. It has since disbanded.

Mrs. Willets also was a member of Teutonia Damenchor, a women's chorus, and her costume has been passed down to Mrs. Sherline.

“It's very touching to me that I get to wear her Damenchor costume all the time,” Mrs. Sherline said.

The Willets were not of German ancestry, their son said, yet they joined the American Turners Toledo, one of seven local German American and Swiss American groups. In the 1960s, Mr. Willets sought to unify the groups. The result was the German-American Festival Society and the festival itself, held since 1987 on land the society bought in Oregon. He was festival president for 18 years.

She was a 1940 graduate of Libbey High School.

She earned her pilot's license in 1941. She didn't yet have a driver's license. News accounts of the time called her “the youngest woman flier in Ohio.”

“Her sister said she knew somebody who had a pilot's license and went out there and saw them flying. It grabbed her,” her son said. “She had to be a flier. She had a very independent spirit.

“Back in those days, to be a pilot you had to know about mechanical things, because half the time you were fixing your airplane. She would fix her own car,” her son said.

Mrs. Willets and her husband met at Gem Beach in Ottawa County. She became a lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, while he was a sergeant. She didn't fly often after the war years, but she maintained her pilot's license into her 70s, her son said.

She worked as a secretary at R.B. Brigham Co. in Toledo. Later, after several years as a stay-at-home mother, she became a secretary for Dana Corp. She was a leader and participant through the 1950s of a sorority, Alpha Rho Tau. She was a seamstress at home too making her own dresses and her children's clothes.

She and her husband spent 25 winters in Fort Myers Beach, Fla.

She was a member of Fairgreen Presbyterian Church, formerly Rosewood Presbyterian Church.

She and her husband married in June, 1942. He died Feb. 18, 2007.

Surviving are her son, Jeffrey Willets; daughter, Robin Majewski; sister, Donna Jacobs; two granddaughters; two step-grandsons, and a great-grandson.

Services will be at noon Saturday, March 9 in the Urbanski Funeral Home, 5055 Secor Rd., where visitation will begin at 9 a.m.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.