CHAMPAIGN — A longtime area property manager is being remembered as a great friend with a ready smile and a warm heart, a devoted family man, and a ho-hum golfer who adored his favorite hobby.
Larry Wingate, 66, of Champaign died this week at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, a little more than two years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“Everything,” is what Roger Webber liked about his friend of 35 years.
“He was easy to get along with, nice. We played so much golf together," he said. "His expectations were never really matched by his actual performance, like all of us.”
A Champaign County judge, Webber met his buddy in the mid-1980s when Webber joined the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal lodge with quarters in downtown Urbana. Mr. Wingate held local and state leadership posts in the organization that produced dozens of friends for him.
Webber said Mr. Wingate openly vented about his golfing deficiencies, but that never deterred him from getting on the course.
“He would joke about it. He missed a short putt and would sputter all the way to the cart. He would ask us if we wanted cheese to go with his whine,” said Webber, one of a couple dozen men who for more than 20 years went on an annual golf outing to Indiana that included Mr. Wingate.
Mr. Wingate had volunteered to manage Webber’s campaign for circuit judge — he was elected in November — but became too ill to do more than distribute a few yard signs for his friend.
Mr. Wingate was born in Crystal Lake, the third of seven children. Like many University of Illinois graduates, he never left this community.
With a dual degree in political science and finance, he forged a successful career in property management, spending 26 years overseeing the Town and Country Apartments in Urbana.
After that he also worked with Green Street Realty, The Atkins Group, Regency Management Services and Sterling Management, and was even general manager of the I Hotel and Conference Center for a couple of years when it first opened.
At the time of his February 2017 cancer diagnosis, he was a vice president at the Bloomington-based Snyder Companies, which owns a mix of real estate.
“Five to six years ago, he came to work for us running our apartment portfolio,” said colleague Charlie Farner, who first met Mr. Wingate about 30 years ago through his wife, Suzanne Wingate. Farner worked for Mr. Wingate, insuring the properties he managed.
“He was a consummate professional, always well-mannered. He had a positive attitude and he was very social. Everybody liked Larry,” said Farner, who was also part of the group that made the annual Indiana golf sojourn, which also included card games and libation.
Champaign attorney Terry Prillaman, who handled landlord disputes for Mr. Wingate and also belonged to the Knights of Pythias, said the only time he saw his friend angry was “at a little white ball on a golf course.”
“Unfortunately, he’s like the rest of us and was limited by his athletic ability. That didn’t keep him from thinking he was a good golfer,” Prillaman said with a laugh.
Tim Jefferson, another Champaign attorney who also met Mr. Wingate through Suzanne about 25 years ago, said he and his friend played many rounds together. Jefferson was diplomatic, calling his friend an “avid” golfer.
“He could have a 10 or a 3 on any hole and I never saw the guy get mad in my life,” said Jefferson, whose wife, Kelley, remains close friends with Suzanne Wingate. The couples have children the same age.
A frequent visitor while Mr. Wingate was ill, Jefferson said his friend never engaged in self-pity about his condition, which was dire from the day it was discovered.
“I always marveled at how, with an incredible amount of grace, he handled his illness. He never had a bad word to say," Jefferson said. "That was pretty much his nature. It was unbelievable to watch.”
'Lots and lots of love'
Suzanne Wingate said the prostate cancer came out of the blue, some six months after a complete physical, colonoscopy and bill of clean health.
But for a nagging lower backache that he attributed to his driving commute to Bloomington, Mr. Wingate had no symptoms — until he noticed blood in his urine and immediately went to convenient care. From there he was sent to the emergency room, quickly followed by surgery to stop the bleeding.
“That’s when it all unraveled,” said his wife of 30 years.
On March 2, Suzanne Wingate mustered the intestinal fortitude to share her husband’s experience in a gripping eight-minute monologue delivered at the Virginia Theatre as part of the “That’s What She Said” program.
“My life is filled with anxiety, fear, worry, sadness, exhaustion and love. Lots and lots of love,” she started out.
She recalled the moment he told her it was stage 4 prostate cancer that had spread to many of his bones.
“I did not recognize his voice. That moment is frozen forever,” she shared with the audience.
Also a detail-oriented property management person, Suzanne Wingate had other specifics of her husband’s journey up to that date: 35 days in the hospital, 29 scans, 90 appointments, 23 rounds of radiation, 23 rounds of chemo, seven emergency-room trips, 87 prescriptions.
“He endures a lot of pain but makes up his mind to be happy,” she said.
That was his life before cancer as well, Suzanne Wingate said.
“He would never cross anybody, always do the right thing. That was probably his strongest trait,” she said.
Illini family tradition
Mr. Wingate was a minority voice of dissent on the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board when the Illinois Terminal was under consideration in 1996. Objecting to its lavishness, not the concept of a consolidated transportation hub, Mr. Wingate was overruled.
In a show of class at a May 1999 board meeting, Mr. Wingate, then board president, gave now-retired Managing Director Bill Volk a plaque congratulating him for bringing the complicated project to fruition.
And while working and playing, he made plenty of time for his family, said Laura Wingate, one of his three daughters.
“He was always correcting our grammar,” she said, laughing.
Her dad was also proud of the fact that all four of his children graduated from the UI. Laura said that despite her father being bedridden much of the last six months, he was thrilled to attend her younger brother Davis’ graduation ceremony at State Farm Center in May.
A diehard Illini fan — he and his wife’s first date was an Illinois football game — he also loved the Cubs.
'Let’s do this'
Longtime friend John Lux of Rantoul said Mr. Wingate was “well-educated in wine and food.”
“He was a fan of any decent red wine and anything from a good steak to interesting and complex dishes, American and international cuisine,” said Lux, also a gourmand.
Son-in-law Mikael Nelander called Mr. Wingate “an excellent chef.”
“He was probably the best pie-maker I ever came across. He had the ability to make crust." Nelander said. "I’ve tried to emulate him but have never been successful.”
The day after his passing, his children and grandchildren were headed to Lake Bloomington to a family cabin that was one of Mr. Wingate’s favorite spots. They planned to continue sharing their memories.
“He read a lot and always kept up on world politics. For the last six months, he watched a lot of golf and Cubs, talking heads, read the paper,” said his wife, who also appreciated his business advice.
“He put a smile on his face every morning and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” she said. “I have no idea how. He just accepted his circumstance like a champion, made it very easy for the entire family.”