Connel Willis, 89, dies

Columbus, OH — Connel A. Willis, 89, of Steger, Ill., died March 24, 2024.

Mr. Willis was a vital part of the Illinois harness racing scene for more than six decades and was elected in the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in December 1987.

Born July 16, 1934, Mr. Willis amassed 2,266 driving wins and $9,234,773 in earnings, and as a trainer garnered 819 triumphs and $914,299. He is best known for his partnership with trotter Gumcorner Lad 4,1:56.2 ($669,128) and pacer Taurus Bomber p,5,1:54.3 ($451,356), as well as countless other Prairie State champions.

Mr. Willis is survived by his wife, Helen; children, Connel “Chuck” Jr., Judy Gern, Cliff (Jill), Melinda (Doug) Warriner; stepdaughter, Tami (Andy) Galbreath; brother, Nelson; 19 grandchildren; and 19 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, James E. Willis and Letha Dexter Morrison; siblings, Luther, Jessie, Clyde Elisie, Mary Bell, Alta May and Ollie Pearl; and children, Joyce Black and Loretta Willis.

Visitation is Monday, April 1, from 3-8 p.m. at Smits Funeral Homes-Steger Memorial Chapel, 3045 Chicago Road, Steger, IL 60575. The funeral service will be held Tuesday, April 2, also at Smits Funeral Homes-Steger Memorial Chapel, followed by interment at Skyline Memorial Chapel, 24800 S. Governors Highway, Monee, IL 60449.

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