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Donald Ray Rockhill, Sr.

October 25, 1931 July 20, 2020
Donald Ray Rockhill, Sr.
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Obituary for Donald Ray Rockhill, Sr.
Donald Ray Rockhill, Sr., 88, of Pekin, died at 11:28 a.m. Monday, July 20, 2020, at Pekin Hospital, surrounded by his children. He had never fully recovered from a heart attack in June.
Don was born in Winfield, KS, to Ray & Lucille (Martin) Rockhill. He had one sister, Diane. When he was a child, his family moved to Effingham, IL, and later to Peoria.
At age 15, Don met the love of his life, Josephine Wood, on a blind date. He immediately recognized her as the former little girl who used to stick her tongue out at him, when the bus he rode regularly passed her home many years earlier. That should have been his first warning of what he was in for with Jo.
Don attended Woodruff High School, where his teen years were spent getting in and out of trouble with his rowdy group of friends, as Jo tried to keep him in line. He was a bright, yet mediocre student, failing both English and History, which should come as a complete surprise to many who knew him as an adult. Don excelled in Art class, however. He later attended Bradley University, where he was a founding member of Rho Delta Fraternity.
He held a variety of jobs as a teenager; soda jerk, bowling alley pin setter, movie theatre projectionist, and car hop at Hunt’s on Farmington Rd. Bernie Shelton, of the infamous Shelton gang, was one of his regular customers, always leaving Don a generous tip.
After his 16h birthday, Don lied about his age and joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, serving from 1947-1949. He later joined the U.S. Army, serving from 1950-1953. He was on active duty during the Korean War, serving stateside as a medic. He was a Corporal, assigned to the 5022 ASU, Det. AMEDS.
Don and Jo married on September 6, 1951, and she joined him at Fort Carson, Colorado. Their first child, a son, was born there, and after returning to Illinois, they went on to have six more children.
He was employed by Caterpillar for 40 years, beginning his career as a typist. He moved up through the years, serving as Manager of the Manufacturing Systems, Material Systems, and Accounts Payable Divisions. At the time of his retirement in 1993, he was Manager of the Computer and Technical Services Division.
Don and Jo owned Cracker Barrel Antiques, with locations in Illinois, Iowa, and Texas. They officially retired in 1994, but never gave up their love of collecting and selling until Jo’s death in 2016. They also owned the Rocking Double R Cattle Co., of Callahan County, TX, raising registered longhorn cattle with their older son, retiring in 1993.
Following his retirement, Don enrolled in creative writing classes at ICC. He and Jo were members of several different writing groups through the years, where both authored a number of published, prize-winning short stories. Don’s major writing undertaking was authoring a 508- page family history, which covered 1500 years, from 420 A.D. to 1999. His fascination with genealogy never ended, and he was still working on updating the family history until his death.
Don had many hobbies through his life. He liked to cook, and searched for the perfect chili recipe. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and trap shooting. He learned needlepoint as a way to de-stress from the pressures of his career. A display of his original, finished needlepoint pieces was shown at Pekin Library in 1981.
He had a lifelong interest In American and British history, with special interests in Abraham Lincoln, the American Civil War, and the early American West. He had a respect for Native Americans and a deep love for the beauty of their weavings, rugs, and beadwork. Items from his collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia have been on display at various sites in Springfield, Illinois.
Don was a voracious reader, passing this love of books and reading to all of his children. He kept an updated list of his current collection of books with him when he traveled, as he never knew when he would come across a bookstore or antiques book dealer. At last count, this single-spaced, author-arranged list contained nearly 3000 books (2981, to be exact).
He was proud to be a United States Veteran, and even more proud of the family members that shared that distinction with him, including his sons, son-in-law, grandsons, granddaughter, great-grandson, and great-granddaughter. He was honored for his military service in the 2014 Pekin Marigold Festival Parade, riding in adjacent vehicles with his veteran grandson. In 2016, Don went on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., choosing his veteran son-in-law as his escort. It was a memorable occasion for both.
An intelligent man, with a quick wit, Don was an unforgettable presence in the lives of those who knew him. To his children, he was the daddy who lifted them onto the front awning to watch the July 4th fireworks and the artist who joined them in the snow, making snow sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and the Sphinx. He wrapped shoelaces around the runners of a sled, so that he could safely pull his youngest daughter to the store and back. He was the gentle man, with the deep voice, who read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to his children. He was the fun-loving daddy, who taught his youngest child to play poker. He was also the stern disciplinarian who let them know when they had disappointed him, but he would still come through when they screwed up. And, he always, always kept watering that money tree that grew in the backyard.
To his grandchildren, he was the loving grandpa who held the crying babies, filled the role as surrogate father whenever needed, sat with loving patience through numerous daily viewings of E.T., and explained the meaning of “compromise” to a precocious granddaughter. He was the grandpa who searched for an open store one Christmas Day, when his grandson cried because Santa hadn’t brought the teddy bear he had secretly asked for. Grandpa came through with that bear later that day, explaining that Santa had left it at his house by mistake.
To his children, grandkids, and great-grandkids, he was the lover of history. He took them to New Salem, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, and Tom Sawyer’s Cave. He suffered through whoopee cushions and wet willies in his ears, coal in his Christmas stocking, and an April’s Fool prank of a dirty sock in his morning coffee.
Don & Jo never forgot their early years of marriage, with too many kids and not enough money. They were generous with their family, and generous with others, too. For many years, they donated several bicycles and dozens of children’s coats to various charities. At a birthday dinner at Jonah’s to celebrate Jo’s birthday one year, they learned that the group of six couples at a neighboring table were celebrating their Woodruff High School Prom. As that was Don’s and Jo’s alma mater, Don picked up the entire tab for all six couples.
It was always enjoyable to drive Don to appointments or shopping at Barnes & Nobel, as he regaled his kids with the stories of his misspent youth in Peoria. He grew up near the intersection of McClure and Knoxville, so most of his teenage employment was in that area. That was also the area where he and his buddies spent time in underage drinking on one rooftop, including an evening when one friend tossed an empty bottle off the roof, accidentally shattering the windshield of the police car idling at the intersection below. It was the middle of the night before the police gave up the search for the culprit, and the boys could sneak down from the roof and slink home. These stories weren’t shared until his kids were grown, and were met with incredulity, coming from the man who nailed his younger son’s bedroom window shut when he discovered he had sneaked out one too many times, and the man who grounded his older two kids for their middle of the night swimming escapade in the community swim pool. Luckily, he never found out until many years later of the times his other three daughters also sneaked out in the middle of the night.
He loved time spent with his family as the years went on. Antiquing, hunting, cattle-raising was enjoyed with one son in Texas. Sharing their stories of years spent at Caterpillar was an important connection with his oldest daughter. He helped transport rescue dogs and traveled with another daughter (never quite forgiving her for not stopping at Books-A-Million in South Carolina in 2018). He greatly enjoyed in-depth conversations with his younger son. His third daughter loved antiquing, gardening, and viewing favorite television programs with him. His youngest daughter loved discussing literature, languages, and politics with him, and enjoyed time with him at her favorite bookstore, TAiLS of a Bookworm, in Pekin. His grandkids and great-grandkids loved his stories and sense of humor.
Don became a member of the Facebook community several years ago, sharing posts on history, dogs, the occasional off-color joke, and most recently his disenchantment with the current Administration. As a former staunch Republican, he was saddened and angered at the direction his party had taken. At the time of his death, he considered himself an Independent.
He volunteered with the Peoria Area Troop Support and the Stockings For The Troops organizations. He was a life member of the Marine Corps League, the Korean War Veterans Association, and the Veterans of Underage Military Service.
Don is survived by six children: Donald (Lisa) Rockhill, Jr., of Quitman, Texas, Deborah Fore of Washington, Rebecca (Mike) Rollings of Groveland, Kevin (Kathy Callaway) Rockhill of Washington, Kathryn Rockhill, who resided with him in Pekin, and Erin Rockhill (Jerry) Brown of Pekin. Also surviving is his sister, Diane Freeburg, of Peoria, a daughter-in-law, Mimi Barrientos Rockhill of Pekin, 19 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, 4 great-great grandchildren, two nieces and a nephew, and his dogs, Rowdy and Molly.
Preceding him in death was his beloved Jo, a loss he never really came to terms with. He was also preceded by his infant son, Adam, a grandson, a great-grandson, a great-great granddaughter, his parents, his wife’s parents, Otto and Pearl Wood of Florida, and his dog, Dorsey.
Cremation will be accorded, with a private celebration of Don’s life at a later date. Please remember Don with fondness, laughter, and an appreciation of the man he was. If you wish to honor him further, donations to Illinois Cancer Care, 8940 Wood Sage Rd., Peoria, IL 61615 are greatly appreciated.
Cremation Society of Mid-Illinois Co. Pekin/Peoria is in charge of cremation arrangements, and condolences to the family can be left online at
The family takes great comfort in knowing that Jo met him in Heaven, saying, “Well, what took you so long?” And, you can bet she was not happy to see the tattoo he got at age 85, after her death.
We loved him so much and will miss him forever. As one survivor stated, “He was someone I could never match, and more than I can ever be.”
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