Willis Granite Products History
In 1945, J. R. Willis purchased the central part of Headquarters Mountain located at the north edge of Granite, Ok. This purchase included the B. L. Smith granite quarry, monument processing plant and sales office. In 1948, Mr. Willis purchased the Pellow Brothers Quarry, processing plant and sales company which had been owned and operated since 1902 by a family from England. The Pellow Brothers firm had produced many notable family and historical monuments as well as supplying granite for WPA Projects across the state. The Granite School and the granite wall and fountains on the Mangum Courthouse square were among some of the projects the Pellow Brothers supplied the rough hewn granite for. One of the highlights for the Pellow firm was being selected to produce a marker for the State of Oklahoma that was inlaid in the stairway of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
During the 1940’s and 1950’s the Willis-Pellow Brothers firm grew to include a sales area within a 300 mile radius of Granite, Ok. One local project of interest was supplying the granite to increase the height of the W. C. Austin Dam at Lake Lugert.
The firm was also honored to place a truncated obelisk at the highest point in Oklahoma in the Black Hills near Boise City, Ok, which was sponsored by the Tulsa Tribune.
The family business began to take shape as both of J. R.’s sons joined the company. In 1945, Bill Willis, established a monument company in Stillwater, OK, Willis Manufacturing Company. J. R.’s youngest son Fred, served as the Quarry Foreman from the mid 1950’s until his retirement in 1989.
In 1964, Bill, his wife Ellen and their four children moved to Granite to assist J. R. with production and sales. Bill and Ellen Willis believed that every family monument was a history in stone to be shared with future generations. What would future generations want to know about their Great-Great Grandfather and Grandmother? They would want to know more than just the year they were born and died. Bill and Ellen Willis were among the first in the memorial industry to begin incorporating family histories, pictures, scenes of lifes work, heritage and beliefs into the design of the family memorial. Artwork was created that told a story which would allow people a century later to visit a cemetery and know something about those individuals. They wanted cemeteries to become places where you can see a history of a community through out time. This desire and belief has been passed on to the Willis daughters, Karen, Linda and Brenda.
Throughout the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s the Willis family continued to establish themselves as artists in the memorial industry. They also have been instrumental in creating Veteran’s Memorials, Civic Memorials, Historical Markers and awards across the state of Oklahoma, as well as in Texas, Kansas and Tennessee. Two generations of Willis’ have created over 200 portraits for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, located in Stillwater, OK, since 1976. Other works include portraits of donors for the Noble Research Facility on the OSU campus, the Oklahoma Heritage Hall of Fame located on the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. Other notable works are the Oklahoma Veteran’s Memorial, many of the historicals located at the state capitol and governor’s mansion. We have worked with sculptors from across the southwest to develop granite statue bases for their creations, many of which are located in Bricktown, in Stillwater on the OSU campus and the OU Campus at Norman.
The Willis firm has been honored to have been a part of projects located in the Aleutian Islands, Normandy and Pfaffenhoffen France. Granite portraits and plaques have been given to dignitaries from Japan and Russia.
In 1979, the Will Rogers granite mosaic was unveiled in Granite, Oklahoma. This was the first phase of the Giants of the Great Plains which was to be a tourism center and landmark for Southwest Oklahoma. J. R. Willis and Bill Willis developed a concept for three notable Oklahomans to be engraved as a granite mosaic and then placed on the edge of Headquarters Mountain. The three Oklahomans selected were Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son, Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee syllabry called the Cherokee alphabet and the World’s Greatest Athlete, Jim Thorpe. The design called for full length figures to be used which would stand 120 feet tall. Charles Banks Wilson gave permission for his portraits to be used as the templates for the mosaics. The artwork for the Will Rogers Mosaic was completed by Bill Willis and Linda Willis Morris. In 1979, there were no computers available to help with producing such a large portrait. The Willis team used a graph system whereby they began with 1 ½ inch squares and transposed the design to the final 24 inch by 24 inch tiles. Each panel then had to be transferred to a stencil to be hand cut and then sandblasted. A dot matrix was used for shading and highlights to give the figure depth. Donations from individuals and corporations funded the first phase of the Giants project. The names of those that donated are engraved in the background of the mosaic. The unveiling took place among much fanfare in November of 1979. Dignitaries from across the state were present for the celebration. The first phase for The Giants of the Great Plains was completed. In years to come, many attempts were made to continue with the vision of Bill Willis and J. R. Willis to complete the entire Giants of the Great Plains project. After years of pursuing the dream, it was determined that the funding was just not available for completion. Still, today, people from across the world come to Granite, Oklahoma to see the large granite mosaic of Oklahoma’s Favorite Son, Will Rogers.
In 1983, Bill and Ellen Willis and their children, purchased the monument company from founder J. R. Willis, renaming the company Willis Granite Products, Inc. In time each of the children returned to work in the family business full time in their respective areas of talent. Since then, the Willis family has received national recognition from the memorial industry, winning national design awards and was honored to be asked to join the prestigious American Institute of Commemorative Art. Today, Willis Granite Products includes the fourth generation of Willis’ to become memorialists and has expanded with sales offices in Granite, Altus and Oklahoma City.