A sum of nearly $1,43 million was distributed from the Robert and Jane Billings estate on Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Clintonville Public Library.
The partial distribution of funds from the estate gave $1 million to Christ Congregational United Church of Christ, $286,000 to the Clintonville Public Library, and $143,000 to the Clintonville Area Historical Society.
The presentations were made in the Wisconsin Room of the Clintonville Public Library. Both Robert and Jane Billings authored books, and the Wisconsin Room was one of the projects with which the Billings were heavily involved.
Robert Billings was born in Clintonville on Sept. 14, 1917, the son of Guy and Jennie (Carr) Billings.
Robert graduated from the Clintonville public school system and continued his education at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was purchasing manager of the Four Wheel Drive Company in Clintonville.
Robert was an involved member of the Freemasons, and was initiated and Entered Apprentice on March 20, 1940; and raised a Master Mason on May 24, 1940, in Clintonville Lodge No. 197. He served his Lodge as Master 1952. He was honored by his Lodge for 70 years of service. He is a Past Grand Commander of the Grand Commandery, Knights Templar of Wisconsin and a 33 Scottish Rite Mason. He has been a Director of the Wisconsin Masonic Home, Inc. and was a member of the Shrine and the Eastern Star.
Both Robert and Jane Billings were active in the Christ Congregational-UCC of Clintonville, Clintonville Area Historical Society, and the Clintonville Public Library. He was President of the Clintonville Area Historical Society and the couple authored a book, “As We Once Were: A Pictorial History of Clintonville Wisconsin.” He was honored for distinguished service by The State Historical Society of Wisconsin and received the Local History Award of Merit. Robert was Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Clintonville Hospital-a corridor of the Angelus Retirement Community is named “Billings Hall.”
Robert passed away on Jan. 21, 2011, at the age of 93.
The former Jane Elizabeth Kelly was born June 10, 1916 in Watertown to William and Elizabeth (Knaak) Kelly. She attended 2 years at Northwestern College in Watertown. Jane went to UW- Madison receiving her bachelor’s in library science in 1939. She received her M.A. in library science in 1962. She and Robert were united in marriage on Oct. 12, 1941.
Jane was librarian at the Clintonville Public Library from 1939-49. She started in 1949 as main coordinator of library media services for the Clintonville Public Schools, retiring in 1982.
She is past board member of the OWLS, a long time board member and a founding member of the current Clintonville Public Library, the Clintonville Education Assoc. (president 1962-63), Clintonville Bicentennial committee, Clintonville Historical Society, and past matron Order of Eastern Star. Jane was a member of many associations and committees over the years. In 1963 Jane was named “Wisconsin Librarian of the Year” by the Wisconsin Library Assoc. Her biography was in the 1975-76 edition of Who’s Who of American Women. Jane was involved in the “book brigade” moving from the old public library to the current location.
Along with reading she also enjoyed writing and published several books. Most notable was “Some Movers and Shakers of Clintonville and Points North” in 1997. Her other interests were genealogy, collecting antiques, and spending time with her husband.
Jane passed away June 26, 2004, at the age of 88.
Robert and Jane are survived by their nephew Dr. Roger Cass and his wife Diane of Rochester, New York, and many friends.
Christ Congregational United Church of Christ will receive $1,000,000 from the Billings estate.
“When Lee Halverson came into my office and informed me that we were to receive a million dollars, I had to sit down and try to wrap my mind around the concept of a million dollars,” said Pastor Jill Meyer of Christ Congregational United Church of Christ in Clintonville. “That rendered me speechless.
“The gift was given with strict stipulations, however. It was Bob’s wish that the money be invested, and we can only use the interest, and it is only to be used on local Christian education, local salaries and upkeep on our beautiful historic building,” Meyer continued. “Bob loved our church building and he and Jane were historians at heart. Every visit I had with Bob was a trip through time, and a lesson on Clintonville history. I think Bob saw our church building as mission, and thought its presence in the community glorified God. I think he was right because we’ve had people who look for our brightly lit bell tower at night and it brings comfort. I know people who know the church’s history well, and can find inspiration in our historic windows.
“We are humbled by the gift, and will do our best to honor Bob and glorify God with it,” said Meyer. “In regard to its use, we are a historic church, but we are forward thinking. In the past, Harriet McCauley had generously paid the electric bill for the lighting of the steeple. It was her suggestion that we update the steeple lighting to a ‘greener’ more cost and energy efficient lighting system. We have done that, and now it will now cost us $90 a year to light our steeple versus $90 a month, and our lighting system is better for the environment. Bob’s money will help with that.
“We are also getting estimates on putting a new roof on our church due to leaks and to help save energy. Steel is being considered, and because our members are environmentally aware, we are also looking at the possibility of having solar panels installed that would not hurt the historic look of the church,” Meyer stated. “But that is still a long way off. Another consideration is air conditioning, which will make our building more comfortable in the summer. The important thing in our congregational church is that every member has a voice and a vote on how the money will be used, and that process is just beginning.”
The Clintonville Public Library will receive $286,000.
“We are thrilled and very grateful for the donation from the Billings estate,” said Clintonville Public Library Director Kathy Mitchell. “Jane K. Billings was Director of the Clintonville Public Library from 1939-1949 before she took the position of Librarian at Clintonville High School. Robert and Jane Billings were generous supporters of the library throughout their lives, especially the library’s local history collection which is housed in the Wisconsin Room.
“The Library Board of Trustees just learned of the amount of the donation and has not had time to plan for the use of these funds,” Mitchell continued. “Before his death, Mr. Billings gave the library permission to digitize the book ‘Some Movers and Shakers of Clintonville and Points North’ written by Jane K. Billings. It is now available online as part of the Clintonville Memory Project in InfoSoup, the online catalog of over 50 libraries in Northeastern Wisconsin, and can be found at memory.infosoup.org.”
The Clintonville Area Historical Society will receive $143,000 from the Billings estate.
“We at the Clintonville Area Historical Society are extremely pleased that Bob and Jane Billings included our organization in their estate,” said CAHS President Sandy Loberg. “They were so instrumental in the formation of the Society in 1975 and also throughout the years since. Their generosity is heartfelt by us and many others in the community.”
“The CAHS has not yet decided how we will use the funds,” Loberg said. “There are stipulations and we will follow those as the Billings have directed us as a benefactor.”