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An Extraordinary Life: 'She lit up a room'

Joliet woman had range of abilities, from quilting to operating heavy equipment

Published: Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 11:12 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
Camilla Warren of Joliet with Franklin, a Christmas surprise from Camilla's husband Bill Warren, to distract her from cancer treatments.

JOLIET – Bill Warren of Joliet said his wife Camilla was an interesting person – and she proved it right from the start by agreeing to elope.

Bill had good reasons for the elopement. He was 19; she was 17. He was managing a pizza place near Western Kentucky University – the school they both attended. Bill met Camilla when she applied for a job.

She didn’t get the job, Bill said, but after dating her four times, Bill knew she was “the one.”

“She just lit up a room,” Bill said.

Because of their ages, Bill anticipated objections, but Bill felt they were marrying each other, not their families. So they eloped to Tennessee. That same day, Bill had Camilla back home to her mother’s house by 10 p.m. Bill returned to his apartment above the pizza place.

“We waited three months to tell our families,” Bill said.

Neither Bill nor Camilla finished college, but they did have 44 happy years together, Bill said. They have two children – William Jr. and Homer – and five grandchildren, all of whom live in Joliet.

One disagreement centered on the naming of their firstborn. Bill wanted to name his first son after his father and Camilla wanted to give him Bill’s name. But Bill was serving in Vietnam when the baby was born, so Camilla won.

Bill felt the fact that he was the oldest of four boys and Camilla was the youngest of three girls created some differences of opinions – especially when it came to raising children – but nothing they couldn’t solve, he said.

“She always spoke her mind,” Bill said, “which I always appreciated.”

When Bill returned from Vietnam, the family moved to Joliet. At first, the couple managed two motels, one in Braidwood and then one in Joliet. Eventually Bill worked as an operating engineer – as his father and grandfather did before him.

The more adventurous Camilla earned her emergency medical technician license and then worked a variety of unrelated jobs.

These jobs included the sporting goods department at Montgomery Ward, in the former Jefferson Square Mall in Joliet and as food supervisor at Stateville Correctional Center.

At Bill’s suggestion, Camilla joined him as a heavy equipment operator on construction sites. Bill said, that job had only one downside.

“She didn’t like the cold weather,” Bill said.

But Camilla had a homey side, too. She was an outstanding cook, baker, seamstress and quilter. She loved attending quilt shows in and out of state – and Bill often accompanied her.

Camilla retired from full-time employment when the first grandchild was born to be a full-time grandma, Bill said. She even served as a board member for Union School District 81, where her children and grandchildren attended.

Eighteen months ago, a bout of pneumonia turned out to be inoperable lung cancer. After Christmas, the lung cancer was gone – and so was hers and Bill’s retirement fund, which bothered Camilla, he said.

“Cancer is expensive,” Bill said.

But it did mean Camilla could take one of the teen grandchildren on a trip to Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park during spring break in March, Bill said. Soon after returning home, Camilla had trouble walking. Tests showed the cancer had spread to her brain.

Camilla was 62 when she died May 31 – ironically, just six hours short of being eligible for Social Security, Bill said. He said he feels lost without her.

“She was a jewel,” Bill said.

• To feature someone in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-280-4122 or dunland@shawmedia.com

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