George Stilwell poses for a photo in his apartment at Village Woods.
CRETE, Ill. (June 2015) — Every day in the orphanage, George Stilwell dreamed of having a big, happy family.
George was just a child when his mother passed away and his father disappeared, leaving him and his three sisters — all four of them under 10 years old — alone in their apartment.
They begged for food until a neighbor noticed and brought them to the police, who sent them to the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School in Normal, Illinois. The home there wasn’t cruel, but it was lonely. George was separated from his sisters, who were sent to the girls’ side of the large building. He had to sneak through weeds and crawl through tunnels to see them.
He tried to run away, and inevitably, he got caught. Each time, he got through his punishment by imagining the family he’d one day have.
Flash forward a few years: George, a navy sailor, meets outgoing club singer Margeau. That night, he tells her they will get married — and not long after, they do.
“She was a beautiful woman,” he said. “I only married beautiful women.”
George and Margeau got started on the big family George had always dreamed of. They had twins, and then a son. And when they decided to have one more child, they ended up with another set of twins!
But when the youngest children were just two years old, Margeau passed away — and George was left with the same choice his father had.
No one expected him to raise the children. Family members wanted to take them; his own sisters offered to step in. But George longed for a family for years, and he was not about to give it up. He starting working night shifts so he could be home with the kids during the day, and he found friends and family to cover the gaps. It wasn’t an easy time, but for George, it was his only option. He was determined not to split up his family.
An photo from more than 20 years ago features George and Arlene with their eight children. George carries the photo with him in his wallet.
When George met Arlene, things couldn’t have gone much differently than they did with Margeau. He made no bold predictions about marriage. In fact, it took much coercing from an aunt before he would even take her out on a date. When he finally agreed to take her to a steakhouse, she ordered … a cheeseburger.
“That really got to me,” he said.
Still, he liked the way they could talk to each other. Arlene had two kids of her own, and the families would go out together, all nine of them. Arlene enjoyed taking care of the kids, and she saw that George could use some assistance. So it was Arlene who eventually proposed— and planned the wedding for two days later!
George and Arlene eventually had another child together, bringing the family total to 10 — but they quickly became one big, happy family. George and Arlene adopted each other’s children, and they took the whole family on as many trips and adventures as they could afford.
“There was a lot of laughter in our house,” George said.
The pair had 41 years together before Arlene passed away.
Today, George’s apartment at Village Woods is filled with treasured photos. A 1993 shot of him and Arlene with all the kids sets on the dresser. A sepia-toned photo of the beautiful Margeau hangs on the wall. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren smile out from other frames. Each photo is a confirmation that George’s loneliness is gone, and his big, happy family continues to grow.
If you or someone you know would like to live in a community full of interesting people like George, contact Village Woods at (708) 672-6111 or VW@provlife.com.
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