John Willis Santas passed away at home in Kalamazoo Michigan after a brief battle with an aggressive cancer, surrounded by his immediate family, on July 23, 2020. He was born on May 26, 1940 in Wonewoc Township, Juneau County, Wisconsin to Jyles and Phyllis (Schultz) Santas.
John developed a strong work ethic while growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm. His first eight years of education were in a one-room school, after which he graduated from Hillsboro High School. With encouragement from his father, John enrolled at what is now the University of Wisconsin - Platteville and prepared to become a high school Vocational Agriculture teacher. The next fifteen years included teaching at three different high schools in Wisconsin, completion of a master’s degree and doctorate – both in Education – at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and international service on University of Wisconsin – United States Agency for International Development projects in Nigeria (1966-1968) and Brazil (1976-1978).
Most of his career, beginning in January 1978, was spent at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign filling various roles in the international dimension of what is now the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES). His last position prior to retirement was Assistant Dean for Academic Programs in the College of ACES. Throughout his career, education and training was his principal focus. He provided leadership to educational training programs throughout the world, including Brazil, Peru, Sri Lanka, the Ivory Coast, Egypt, Kenya, Zaire, Zambia, Pakistan (1983-1994), and in Afghanistan after retirement (2003-2011). Hundreds of international students received a U.S. education through his guidance and facilitation. In addition to that, he helped hundreds of domestic students add an international chapter to their degree programs. John was proud to wear the title of “Educator.”
The impact of his work was recognized by an Award for Sustained Excellence from the University of Illinois, a Fellowship in International Development from the Partners of the Americas / Kellogg Foundation, the International Humanitarian Award from the city of Champaign Illinois. He was named a Chevalier d’Ordre des Palmes Academiques for contributions to education from the French National Ministry of Education.
Those who heard John say “the Grandpa chapter is the best chapter in life” and “time spent with grandchildren is time well spent” know that his greatest source of pride was Alice and James. Others have heard John talk about “the great game of baseball” and know that was his favorite hobby, especially University of Illinois baseball. Travel was an important part of his life during his career as well as in retirement, generating enduring memories.
John is survived by his wife, the former Sandra Bauman. They were married on June 30, 1962 at the First Evangelical United Brethren Church in Madison Wisconsin. Also surviving are his daughter Elizabeth Santas Kraatz; his grandchildren Alice Jane and James John Kraatz; his twin brothers Richard (Gladys) Santas and Donovan (Barbara) Santas, twin sister Jean (Gordon) Stittleburg, and sister Mary Phillips; as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
John was a member of First United Methodist Church in Champaign Illinois. A graveside service officiated by the Rev. Dr. Terry Harter will be held at the Valley Cemetery in Valley, Wisconsin on July 29 at 11:00. In lieu of flowers, donations could be made to the University of Illinois College of ACES for its Study Abroad program (203 Mumford Hall; 1301 West Gregory Drive; Urbana IL 61801 – please indicate that the gift is in memory of John Santas). The Picha Funeral Home in Hillsboro is assisting with arrangements.