A packed memorial service in June Lake pays tribute to beloved local
They gathered in June Lake on Monday to celebrate one of their own. They spilled out into the hallways and doorways and kitchen and stairs of the June Lake Community Center. And there isn’t a fire marshal on Earth who would’ve dared tell any of them to leave.
Not that they would have listened anyway.
Erin “Willi” Willingham, a son of June Lake, a 20-year veteran of the Town of Mammoth Lakes Road Department, a loving father, a loving son, a man of integrity who generally let his actions speak for him, died with his boots on February 17, on the job. He was 45.
The cause of death, according to his father Ken, appears to have been a brain hemorrhage.
Willi was born in Hollywood, Calif. on October 15, 1971 to Carol and Ken Willingham.
The very next year, the family moved to June Lake “to establish our alternative lifestyle,” said Ken with a twinkle.
As Ken said, “we’ve scratched and fought to stay here [ever since].” And as he taught his son, “You work for your buck.”
It’s an ethos that Willi has clearly passed onto his son Chase, who said he admired how his father fulfilled his commitments, to the last day, when he reported to work even though he was feeling terrible.
“If I’m in management someday, I’m gonna be working with my guys [as opposed to sitting behind a desk]. It’s a brotherhood,” said Chase.
Chase is the middle child of Willi’s three. Carlie, the eldest, is currently going to nursing school in Roseville. His youngest, Sydney, is 16 and lives with her mother Kimberly in Lee Vining.
Willi and Kimberly were married for 20 years before divorcing about three years ago.
But out of the sadness and disappointment of a marriage ending there was also a silver lining. As Ken said, it allowed him to reconnect with his son and spend more time with him, as Willi moved back into his parents house.
One thing about Willi—he was a stickler for details. Before he took the job with the town of Mammoth, he was a finish painter. He was also, said his father, a very good cook.
Willi didn’t rush things. When he took a cut of meat off the grill, he wouldn’t just slap it on plate and serve it, no matter how hungry or impatient his father was. “It’s not ready yet. It has to rest,” Ken said, recalling one of Willi’s signature lines.