SAVOY — A man whose name is practically synonymous with Savoy is being remembered as generous, humorous and humble.
Richard "Dick" Burwash, who lived at the Windsor of Savoy, died Saturday morning at Carle Foundation Hospital after having only recently been diagnosed with cancer. He was 94.
Word of his death hit hard Saturday evening at the Savoy United Methodist Church, where members were hosting their annual chicken and noodle supper. Mr. Burwash donated the land on the north side of Old Church Road, west of Duncan Road, where the church is located. Mr. Burwash was a lifelong member of the congregation, according to Pastor Jim McClarey.
"He was a great man and we're going to miss him terribly," said McClarey.
A lifelong farmer, it was Mr. Burwash's father who sold family farmland to real estate syndicator and developer David Eades of Savoy to make way for the Savoy Plaza that features the Savoy 16 Theater, the Schnucks store and several other retail establishments.
"He is who I call my neighbor forever," said Donald Maxwell, 77, a resident of the Lake Park subdivision in unincorporated Champaign, where Mr. Burwash lived before moving to the Windsor.
The Maxwell and Burwash families had farms near each other when the men were boys. Both carried on their family's farming tradition. Maxwell continues to farm in the Tolono area.
"He was just a real square guy," said Maxwell. "He was a generous gentleman. He worked with the Farm Bureau off and on."
The 1973 News-Gazette Farm Leader of the Year was on the Champaign County Farm Bureau's legislative committee in the early 1970s and made trips to the nation's capital to educate congressmen about the needs of farmers. He also worked on developing the first Champaign County zoning ordinance around 1974.
"He would have driven a two-cylinder John Deere forever," Maxwell said. "He was green all the way."
Maxwell laughed that he and his lifelong friend were "famous for closing the coffee places," citing the former Red Wheel and the old Aunt Sonya's as two of their favorite haunts.
Mr. Burwash was known for frequenting coffee klatches.
For 15 years, Frank Krasnowski of Tolono has been listening to stories over coffee on weekday mornings with a group of about 20 men that included Mr. Burwash, at the Stevick Senior Center in downtown Champaign.
Cussing and discussing everything from politics to sports to current events, the group has no women and no lawyers. A Republican, Mr. Burwash referred to the opposing party as the "Damocrats," Krasnowski chuckled.
Krasnowski said his friend kept the group on schedule, especially when they had a speaker, to minimize feeding what Mr. Burwash called the "city slot machines" disguised as parking meters outside the center.
"He was a very generous guy. The first thing he did was he would go to the big pot and pour the coffee into the little pot and put it on the table for the guys," he said.
Krasnowski recalled Mr. Burwash telling of hosting former University of Illinois linebacker and NFL great Dick Butkus at his home when Butkus was a UI student.
"He said, 'I served him breakfast and I never saw a man eat so much in my life. He ate a pound of bacon and a half a dozen eggs,'" Krasnowski recalled. "We're going to miss him a lot."
McClarey, of the Savoy United Methodist Church, said Mr. Burwash was "really, really good to our church."
"Dick was a great man in many respects but he was humble about it. He was generous beyond measure. He donated the land for the church about 10 years ago. We've been out here eight years. The church went through difficult times over the years. He was a solid, steady pillar of the church who had the best interest of the church in his heart."
McClarey said Mr. Burwash's late wife Catherine, who died in September 2007, had Alzheimer's and was in specialized care for about 11 years.
"There weren't many days he missed going to see her, even long after she didn't know him," McClarey said. The couple married in 1944 and have two daughters.
Savoy village trustee Bill Smith said last Tuesday he delivered an American Legion hat to Mr. Burwash, who was recently made a life member of the Savoy American Legion.
"He told me, 'Smitty, the doctors think I have cancer and they don't know what to do. I'm not feeling good.' He's 94 and I never heard him complain about being sick," said Smith, who's known him about 40 years. In 2006, Smith wrote a book on the history of Savoy and said Mr. Burwash and Maxwell were instrumental in providing a lot of the information for it.
During that visit, Mr. Burwash told Smith about taking a recent Honor Flight with other World War II veterans to Washington D.C. Mr. Burwash was a veteran of the U.S. Army Air Force and was involved in the D-Day Invasion of France. He served four years and four months.