Willard Caswell Courtney was born in Watts, CA on August 24, 1915 and moved to Orange County in 1916. where he lived for the next 97 years. His mother was a professional piano player and his father was a man of many occupations, including railroad fireman, entrepreneur, and even functioning as a human cannonball in a traveling circus! Willard survived a challenging Depression Era childhood, from which he emerged as the provider for his family, a role he carried for the rest of his life. Willard had to leave high school at age 16 to take over the family tire business because of his father’s poor health. Willard described the day that he left Tustin High School as the saddest day of his life. He later earned a GED and attended college at night.
In his early 20’s he was set up on a blind date by his three sisters with their hairdresser, Gayle Lahodny, a new arrival from Kansas. This began a lifelong romance that would result in 76 years of marriage and a legacy of fidelity to all who knew them. They were married on July 5, 1937 and were true soulmates and partners until the day he passed away.
Willard took great pride in his service in the United States Navy during WWII in Pennsylvania. Following the war, he came home, as so many servicemen did, to uncertain job prospects. In 1948 Willard and a business partner formed the Courtney and Lester Tire Co. which grew and thrived over the years and was sold in 1960. Willard then turned to other business pursuits: real estate broker and a yacht broker. He actually never fully retired, and at age 98 was still active in the management of his own commercial properties.
Willard was also deeply involved in other local business and community service activities. He was one of the founders of Costa Mesa Savings and Loan and served as its Secretary Treasurer. He was involved in various investment groups: Capital Alliance Corp, Costa Building Corp, and Orange Coast Associates. He served as an Elder at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, was a member of the Board of Directors of the YMCA, President of Costa Mesa Kiwanis Club and President of the Boys Club of the Harbor Area. He continued to serve the community in retirement, being a member of “Races”, Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services with the Newport Beach Police Dept.
Willard was a consummate entertainer and enjoyed many years on stage at Oasis Senior Center, playing saxophone and singing in a jazz band, as well as reciting his own poetry and singing songs with his original lyrics.
He is survived by his wife Gayle, his daughter Kathy Schwarz (Dr. Kenneth), grandchildren Dr. Kristin Pelinka (Rob) and Kenny Schwarz (Abigail) and great grandchildren Durham and Emery Pelinka. A Celebration of Life service will be held
Saturday, Nov 30 at 11:00 am at Oasis Senior Center in Cdm. Lunch will served following the ceremony.
We called him Fava, and “Fava, you will be greatly missed.”