Wayne L. Willis, 52, of Overland Park, Kansas, died June 17th of a heart attack while on an evening jog. Wayne was born March 19, 1968, in Independence, Missouri. His family moved across Missouri before settling down in Topeka in 1978. He graduated from Washburn Rural High School in 1986 where he was a class officer, played basketball and was a standout pole vaulter. He often reminded his friends that his personal best in the vault was 14 feet, 9 inches.
Voted the funniest male of his class, Wayne Willis lived up to that comedic title for 30-plus years, entertaining family, friends and co-workers while also being known as a generous, helpful, caring and kind soul. It was often said he missed his calling as an SNL writer.
A member of the Johnson County Community College track and field team for two years, Wayne later transferred to his beloved University of Kansas, earning a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in psychology in 1991. His ongoing commitment to higher education is evident in his three master’s degrees from Webster University: Media Communications and Business (1997), Business (2004) and Marketing (2011). Wayne put his degrees to work in various marketing and management positions at companies including AT&T, Century Link/Embarq and Sprint/T-Mobile.
Wayne began dating the love of his life, Janet Stueve, in late 1991. She and Wayne wed on July 24, 1999, in Topeka, Kansas and celebrated their 20th anniversary last summer. They have a daughter, Taylor, and a son, Jake.
Wayne loved to play basketball, tennis, golf, and softball. Wayne was an amazing husband and father. Wayne loved doting on his wife and children. He coached Jake in baseball and soccer, attended art shows and played Pokémon GO with Taylor. He enjoyed riding bikes, visiting parks and zoos with both children. Taylor had recently told her father that he was her hero. Wayne and Janet were best friends, supported each other in all of life’s challenges and could most often be found sharing laughs. Janet referred to Wayne as her wingman and herself as the silent partner. If Janet was ever uncomfortable attending a social event she was always assured that if Wayne was by her side she wouldn't have to say much because Wayne would be doing all the talking. Wayne spent a lot of time with his parents, brothers and extended family and enjoyed playing guitar with his father, Ron.
Willis was active in the Kansas City community. From 2011 to 2015, he was the social media vice president for the KC chapter of the American Marketing Association. Wayne was passionate about Going to the Dogs, which raises funds for the purchase of bullet proof vests, shelter, care, and retirement of K9 officer animals in Kansas and Missouri, serving as the organization’s marketing director from 2016-2020.
Wayne will be remembered by many of his friends for the Post Thanksgiving Day Bowl game, an event he created in 1987 to remain close with his friends and play some touch, or tackle football, depending on the field conditions. This friendly competition has continued for 32 years, although the tradition wisely changed to a non-contact poker tournament in later years. Wayne's competitiveness remained as strong as ever. The event will live on with joyful memories of Wayne.
He cherished staying in touch with his friends. After recently discovering a stash of his senior photos from high school, Wayne sent out more than 20 wallet-sized photos with inspirational and humorous messages on the back during the month of May.
Wayne is survived by his wife and children; his brothers Scott (Lisa) Willis and Jason (Lori) Willis; parents, Ron and Linda Willis; mother-in-law, Doris Stueve; sister-in-law, Roxane Stueve; his nephews, Austin (Martha) Willis, Tyler (fiancé Rebecca Johnson) Willis and Mason Willis; his niece, Kori Willis; and great nephew, Augustus Willis. He will be dearly missed by them and a world full of friends.
Wayne will be honored with an inscribed granite paver, located on the east side of The University of Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse surrounding the statue of Phog Allen, forever commemorating his love of the Jayhawks.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a celebration of life will be scheduled when it is deemed safe to gather. The details will be published at a later date.
To leave a special message for his family, press the "Share Memories" button above.