Francis J. Gillis, 73, of Willmar, passed away Thursday, September 6, 2001, at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar.
Funeral services were held on Monday, September 10, 2001, at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar with the Rev. Joseph Steinbeisser officiating. Interment will be in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Rice Rehabilitation Respiratory Therapy Center, Rice Hospice, or St. Mary's Foundation. Harvey Anderson Funeral Home, Willmar, Minn., is in charge of the arrangements.
He was born November 17, 1927 in Glenwood City, Wis., to Joseph and Alice (Kamm) Gillis. He was raised on a dairy farm and attended school in New Richmond, Wis., graduating in 1945. In 1947, after serving in the Army Air Force, he returned home to the farm and married his fiancee Rita Berube.
He later left the farm to work for the Surge Milking Equipment Company. In 1949 he was introduced to the turkey industry when he went to work for the Hudson Equipment company as a sales representative, living in Pelican Rapids, Minn. In 1958 he left Hudson Company and went to work for the Big Dutchman Company, traveling Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Iowa.
In 1969 he founded what is now known as Gillis Agricultural Systems, Inc., originally located in Stillwater, Minn. In 1971, he moved the small company, known at the time as Poultry and Livestock Systems, Inc., to Willmar, Minn. The company was operated out of rented facilities on South Highway 71 in Willmar. He opened a second office in Storm Lake in 1975 to serve the poultry and livestock industries in Iowa. In 1977, the company name was changed to identify it as a family business operated by Francis and four of his sons, Greg, Tom, Bob, and Mark.
In 1978, to accommodate the growing business, the company headquarters was moved to its present location on East Highway 12 in Willmar. In 1986, he semi-retired and his sons became the sole owners of the business. He retired in 1991.
He was active in the poultry industry as an allied member of the Midwest Poultry Federation, Minn., Turkey Growers Association, Iowa Poultry Association and served on many of their various boards and committees. He was honored by the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association in 1999 when he was presented with the MTGA Allied Lifetime Achievement Award. He was an active member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Willmar and was one of the founders of the St. Mary's Foundation.
He is survived by his wife, Rita; five sons: Gary (and Linda) Gillis of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Greg (and Cecillia) Gillis of Storm Lake, Thomas (and Deborah) Gillis of Willmar, Minn., Robert (and Maureen) Gillis of Willmar, Minn., Mark Gillis of Spirit Lake, and daughter Michelle (and Daniel) Lorinser of Chanhassen, Minn.; along with 13 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren; three sisters, Anita Wells, Hudson, Wis., Norine (and Larry) Casey, Amery, Wis., and Sister Elizabeth Gillis OSF, Hinsdale, Ill., two brothers, Jack Gillis, Amery, Wis., and Edward A. Gillis, Los Altos, Calif.; and other family members.
He was preceded in death by his father and mother.