Willard Joseph Hahnenberg

October 8, 1922 ~ April 18, 2018 (age 95)

Willard Joseph Hahnenberg, 95, of Paw Paw, MI passed away on April 18, 2018 at Bronson Hospital, Kalamazoo, MI.

Will, as he liked to be called, was born on October 08, 1922 in Lake Leelanau, MI, son of Simon and Isabelle (Plamondon) Hahnenberg.  Will graduated valedictorian from Leelanua St. Mary’s in the spring of 1940.  That fall he enrolled in St. Joseph’s Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI.  While enrolled as a seminarian, the United States entered WWII. He loved the seminary, but felt it was his duty to join the military. He enrolled in the V-5 Navy Pilot Training Program which was designed to prepare young men to be pilots in the U. S. Naval Reserve.  On December 16, 1944 he received the treasured “golden wings” and was commissioned an Ensign in the USNR as a Naval Aviator.  After his discharge he attended Western Michigan University. It was there that he met the love of his life, Donnita May Nutter. He taught in Galesburg and Paw Paw, MI before he returned  to his Alma Mater, WMU, where he was responsible for the maintenance of the music departments many pianos as well as teaching in the Music Education Department. He eventually went full time attaining the rank of Associate Professor and serving as Head of the Department.  He was presented the Title of Associate Professor Emeritus of Music in June of 1983.

He loved music and singing and devoted his life to sharing that passion.  He directed many choral groups over the years including the WMU Women’s Chorus, the Kalamazoo Male Chorus, Paw Paw St. Mary’s Church choir, and a variety of Paw Paw Community choruses.  Will loved the theater. In his younger days he performed at the Civic Theatre in Kalamazoo and later in life he directed and sometimes acted in productions by the Paw Paw Village Players. Many remember his role as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He was a gifted Piano tuner and it was a skill that served him well all of his life. Taking that skill to the next level was one of his greatest joys. He loved to take a “well-used” Steinway Grand piano and restore it to its original magnificence.  

Having grown up on a farm, he loved to get his hands dirty raising vegetables for the table on a small plot of ground next to the house.  Many times he could be seen leaning on his rake just “taking in the view” of his flourishing garden, no doubt reminiscing about his life as a child on the family farm in Lake Leelanau, MI. Will and Donnita loved to travel and they especially loved camping at such locations as Interlochen State Park where they could stroll from their campsite across M137 to the Interlochen Music Camp where Donnita had been a camper while in high school. There they could watch and listen to the many practice sessions and musical performances that took place. Later in life he found great joy spending time with his wife, Donnita and kicking back in his oversize recliner with one of his devoted, pet dogs snuggled peacefully on his lap.       

He is survived by his children Tom (Cheryl) Hahnenberg of Lake Isabella, MI and Sarah Hahnenberg of Paw Paw, MI;  2 grandchildren; Simmon (Patricia) Hahnenberg of Pfluegerville, TX and Levi (Lisi) Hahnenberg of Decatur, GA; 5 great grandchildren, Giulia Avelar of Portage, Sabrina and Zachary Hahnenberg of Pfluegerville, TX and Isabella and Isla Hahnenberg of Decatur, GA; Preceding him in death in 2017 was his wife of 68 years, Donnita; his parents Simon and Isabelle; brothers Frederick, Lawrence and Edward and sisters Cecelia Bussey, Rita Egeler, Laura Genevieve Zeits and Rose Marie Schramski.   

A Memorial Mass for Willard and Donnita will take place Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church, Paw Paw, with Fr. Joseph Xavier to officiate. Visitation with family will take place at the church beginning at 10:00 a.m. until the time of Mass. A luncheon will follow in the school gymnasium. Memorial contributions may be directed to the Alzheimer’s Association.  Share a memory, photo or sign the online guestbook at:


Donations may be made to:

Alzheimer's Association-South West Region, Michigan Great Lakes Chapter
200 Turwill Lane Suite 6, Kalamazoo MI 49006

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