In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Merle Willmann

Merle G. Willmann
Merle G. Willmann

Merle G. Willmann, 86, professor emeritus in landscape architecture and regional planning, died at home in South Deerfield Friday, Jan. 8. Born in Mauston, Wis. on Sept. 30, 1934, he was the son of the late Herbert and Bernice (Cure) Willmann.

He graduated from Amundsen High School in Chicago, earned his bachelor of science and master of science degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and then did Ph.D. work in sociology.

He swam competitive in high school and college; was certified by the University of Illinois and the American Association of Health, Physical Education & Recreation as an Aquatic Director; was an American Red Cross Water Safety Trainer; A.R.C. instructor of the handicapped; A.R.C. small craft instructor; YMCA aquatic leader examiner; and American Canoeing Association Canoe Instructor. He taught swimming at the University of Illinois and worked as a swimming and diving pro in a private swim club during the summer.

During Willmann’s senior year at college, he worked with four corporations in Illinois (partnering in research and production of petrochemicals) to develop for them an employee recreation non-profit corporation; and, to design a recreation complex including a clubhouse, swimming pool, picnic area, children’s playground, tennis courts, volleyball courts and a softball field. He was then hired as their first recreation director and pool manager.

Willmann served two years of active duty with the U.S. Army in Germany beginning in 1957 followed by six years of reserve duty in the U.S. Air Force in an administrative position. He received honorable discharges from both branches of the service.


Willmann began teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1963 and retired as professor emeritus in landscape architecture and regional planning (LARP) in 1997 after 34 years, the last fifteen years serving as assistant department head. His primary areas of teaching included recreation and park management, planning and design.  He was certified as a master professional by the Massachusetts Park & Recreation Association and National Park & Recreation Association.  He was also active through serving on committees and in workshops in the national Society of Recreation & Park Educators; state, regional, and national levels of the American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance; the American Camping Association; and the New England Park Executives.

One of his fondest memories was developing and serving as the UMass faculty director of The Boltwood Project, an academic community service learning program begun in 1969 at The Belchertown State School for the Mentally Retarded.  The Boltwood Project has been placing students ever since in programs for disabled individuals in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. Boltwood is the largest and longest continuously running community engagement program at UMass Amherst.During Willmann’s time as faculty director, participating UMass students represented virtually every UMass academic major or discipline and there were over 11,000 student enrollments. For his services, Willmann was honored to receive the Chancellor’s Outstanding Community Service Award.

Family was always at the forefront of his non-professional interests. He was also active in his church family at the North Leverett Baptist Church, and as a member of the Gideons International (Franklin County Camp). Among his many other interests were reading, carpentry, camping, hiking, canoeing and traveling.

He married his loving wife, Jean (Romajean I. Ringle) Willmann, in 1955 – and is survived by daughters, Kim and Pamela. He is also survived by his brother, Kurt, of Greenbay, Wis. He was predeceased by brothers Harlan, Dean and Vernon.

A memorial service will be held at the North Leverett Baptist Church, date and time to be determined. A burial service will be in the Bremen (Indiana) Cemetery also at a later date to be determined. Donations in his name may be made to the North Leverett Baptist Church.