Harold B. "Bo" Willman

1901 to 1984

Harold  B. WillmanHarold Bowen Willman, known to all as Bo, was born in Newcastle, Indiana. He attended the University of Illinois and received a B.A. degree in 1926, an M.A. degree in 1928, and a Ph.D. degree in 1931, all in geology. Willman was a field assistant to Francis P. Shepard in British Columbia during the summer of 1924. The following year he worked for the Kentucky Geological Survey.

Willman's association with the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) began in 1926 with part-time student work in the Areal Geology and Paleontology Section and the Coal Section. He was hired full-time in the Oil and Gas Section in 1930, and, in 1937, he moved to what would become the Industrial Minerals Section. In 1945, he was appointed head of the Areal Geology and Paleontology Section (later called the Areal Geology and Stratigraphy Section) where he remained until his retirement in 1969.

Willman made significant contributions to the understanding of Illinois' mineral resources, stratigraphy, and areal geology. Some of his major accomplishments include published reports on the state's limestone and dolomite resources, and the zinc and lead deposits of northwestern Illinois. His research with M.M. Leighton provided important insight into the stratigraphy, character, and origin of the loess deposits in the Mississippi River Valley. He collaborated with J.S. Templeton in the late 1940s and early 1950s to correlate the rocks of the Ordovician Champlainian Series from Illinois east to New York, west to Colorado, north to Manitoba, and south to Tennessee. The stratigraphic framework these two described is still used today by geologists to understand the Ordovician succession of North America. In the same way, Willman's long collaboration with John C. Frye resulted in important published reports on the Pleistocene geology of Illinois. Willman had a keen interest in stratigraphic nomenclature and policy and led the move in Illinois toward using multiple classification schemes. He organized and guided the effort to produce the Handbook of Illinois Stratigraphy, published in 1975 as ISGS Bulletin 95. Other major publications include the coauthored 1967 Geologic Map of Illinois (1:500,000) and the Bibliography and Index of Illinois Geology, published in 1968 as ISGS Bulletin 92.

Willman was a kind and humble man and a gentleman of the highest order. His genuine, friendly nature, vast knowledge of geology, and overall philosophy of life drew people to his door. Many of us sought his help in reviewing our manuscripts, which were often returned with comments and suggestions that were greater in length than the manuscript itself. Invariably, the result was a greatly improved paper. Except while traveling to visit his daughters and grandchildren, he kept regular hours at the ISGS throughout his retirement. He worked on manuscripts, counseled staff and visitors, and made available his vast experience and knowledge to all until his final days. Willman left a huge footprint on the geologic investigations of Illinois and did it with class.

Honored by: 
Dennis R. Kolata
Citation Contributed by: 
Dennis R. Kolata
Details of Willman's professional career can be found in the GSA memorial, v. 21, p. 57B64, 1991.