John Billings, pictured here in 2004, came to the Ashland area 90 years ago and still recalls how the community and his family survived the Great Depression and eventually went on to prosper.

Prominent Ashlander John Billings, 97, dies

ASHLAND — John Billings, the longtime owner of Billings Farm in Ashland, died Wednesday afternoon after several months of hospice care. He was 97.

Friends and family remembered him as a compassionate local leader and a dedicated member of the Rotary Club who loved his community and dedicated his life to its service.

He is survived by his four children, Stan, Mary James, Tim and Ginny Lewis. They remember their father as an active civil servant who valued education and philanthropy as much as he valued working on his farm.

"Dad was such a fantastic guy," James said. "He really wanted to do all he could for his community."

John Billings came to Ashland as a child in 1919, after losing his birth parents in the flu pandemic that swept the world at the end of World War I. He was adopted by the Billings family, who worked 140 acres of farmland on the north end of town.

He would call that land home for the next 90 years.

"He was a fine gentleman," said former city Councilman Don Laws, who knew Billings through his work for the town. "He had tons of friends, and made numerous contributions to his community."

Those contributions included active service in World War II, a stint with the Ashland Planning Commission and years of volunteer work for his church. But he made his greatest impact through a life-long commitment to the Ashland Rotary Club. One of its most admired members, Billings held perfect attendance at club meetings — for 62 years.

"Everyone loved John," said Rotary Club spokesman Pete Belcastro. "He's done so much for the city of Ashland over the years."

Billings' entire family was by his bedside when he passed away at around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Kim Lewis, Ginny's husband, said Billings became a father figure for him after he joined the family in 1979.

"He was not only one of my closest friends and mentors. He was also a Christian inspiration of the Rotary Club's motto of service," Kim Lewis said. "He was a great man."

Billings was known by many around town for his efforts to have a championship-caliber golf course built on his farmland, members of his family say there is much more to the man who called Ashland his home for nearly a century.

James said her father's focus in life was always to put others before him.

"He just wanted to be the kind of person that people could look up to. He tried to help out whenever he could," she said.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 3. The service is to be held at the First United Methodist Church, located at 175 N. Main St. in Ashland. Mary James said the public is invited to attend the service, which will begin at 11 a.m.

She said she hopes her father will be remembered for the spirit of community he instilled in others, and for the tireless work he put into making Ashland a friendly and close-knit community.

"He was always out there looking out for his neighbors," she said. "He was a real special man."

The Billings farm is to be divided among John's four children.

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