JAMES JOSEPH WILLETT: J. J. Willett is among the oldest living ministers who have served the Churches in this Association. He was born of good Baptist stock. He came from a family that has produced a number of useful and faithful Baptist preachers. His date of birth was January 22, 1861, and his place of birth was Meade County, Kentucky. He is the youngest of twelve children born to Richard and Mary Willett. Brother Willett was converted at the age of twelve and united with the Hill Grove Church in his native County. He was ordained to the ministry about the year 1885 but where and by whom we do not know. His education was secured from the common schools at hand, Bardstown Male and Female Institute, and still later Georgetown College. His theological studies were completed at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. V. I. Masters, former Editor of the Western Recorder, states that, "When the Editor was in the Seminary in the early nineties, among his fellow students were three Willetts, all Kentuckians, one of whom was the subject of this sketch, while a second, Rev. J. Oliver Willett, now resides at Phoenix, Arizona, and has for years rendered faithful service in that state. The third of the three Willetts, Rev. A. R. Willett, has now passed on to be with God after a very fruitful life and work".
He was united in marriage to Miss Mary Allie Brown, of Brandenburg, Kentucky, on August 9, 1887. They lived together as faithful companions for almost fifty-two years. Her death occurred in Owensboro, Kentucky, on March 23, 1939, at the age of sixty-eight, and the funeral was conducted from the Walnut Street Church by Revs. R. E. Humphreys, A. F. Cagle, and W. S. Coakley. Her body was interred in the Rose Hill Cemetery. Four children blessed their wedded life. Mrs. R. S. Sumner lives in Owensboro, Ky., and Mrs. Earl Baum and Mrs. W. J. Bell live in Miami, Florida. The one son, Dr. Dwight H. Willett, spent twenty- seven years in the ministry and recently died at his home in Irwin, Tenn, at the age of fifty-two. His sketch is given in the list of deceased ministers.
Brother Willett preached his first five years as a minister at Valley Creek, Middle Creek, East Rhudes Creek, and White Mills, near Elizaabethtown [sic], Kentucky, during which time more than 250 persons were baptized into the Churches on profession of faith. Our brother next accepted a pastoral field near Vevay, Indiana, the Churches being Friendship, Fairview, Brushy Fork, Palltown, and Macedonia. Later he preached at Dunkirk, Indiana, and still later to Churches in the State of Ohio. On account of failing health the family returned to Meade County, Kentucky, and our brother gave twelve years in pastoral services to Churches in Salem Association, and served as a part-time missionary for that body of Baptists. This was followed by five years of pastoral service at Hardinsburg, Kentucky, and other country Churches near there. His last field of service was in the vicinity of Owensboro, Kentucky, where for a period of five years he served the following rural Churches: Panther Creek, Dawson at Philpot, Friendship Centertown, Macedonia, South Hampton, and South Carrollton. From 1919 to 1930 he held his last pastorate at Hall Street Church in Owensboro, and thus he closed a very active and successful ministry of about fifty years. His was a ministry blessed of God to the saving of the lost, and the cheering and building up of believers wherever this faithful man labored. Brother Willett bore his share of responsibilities placed upon him by his brethren, these included ten years as clerk of the Daviess County Baptist Association, and as secretary of the Mission Board of the Association for a period of twenty-five years. He resigned this last position of responsibility in his eightieth year. New buildings were erected at Hite's Run, in Breckenridge [sic] County; South Carrollton, in Muhlenberg County; and Hall Street, in Owensboro, Daviess County, Kentucky, during his pastorate at these places.
Brother Willett was married to Mrs. Birch Shields, the widow of Rev. Birch Shields, in the early part of 1940, and since that time has made his home at Beaver Dam, Ohio County, Kentucky. He is also a member of the historic Beaver Dam Baptist Church. Even though he is now in his eighty-third year our brother can still tell you why he is a Baptist and can preach to you a very able sermon. The ministry has been blessed and enriched by the life and labors of James Joseph Willett. He gave much encouragement and counsel to the author during the early days of his ministry and he will be forever grateful for it.
"A HISTORY OF THE DAVIESS-McLEAN BAPTIST ASSOCIATION IN KENTUCKY, 1844-1943" by Wendell H. Rone. Published in 1944 by Messenger Job Printing Co., Inc., Owensboro, Kentucky, pp. 425-426.