Harold Rex Wildman, Warsaw, known to everyone as Rex, passed away at 8:58 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, at the age of 96.
He was born on April 22, 1923, in Deedsville, to Frances (Balsbaugh) and Francis Ellis Wildman. The oldest of 10 children, he moved to Kosciusko County at the age of 10 when his parents purchased a farm near Leesburg. As a youth, he experienced the hardships that many Americans endured during the Great Depression.
He witnessed the electrification of rural America and the replacement of horses by gasoline engines to move and power farm machinery. He was a 1941 graduate of Leesburg High School, only a few months before the U.S. entered World War II. He proudly enlisted in the United States Army. Once in the Army, Wildman applied to and was accepted for the U.S. Army Air Force. Trained as a pilot, he was assigned to the China-India-Burma theater, where he became one of the famous “hump” pilots. Their main task was to fly troops and supplies from Burma over the Himalayan Mountains to assist the Chinese in their fight to repel the invading Japanese army.
Wildman flew 50 missions through the unpredictable and extreme weather and treacherous terrain that over the course of the war claimed over 600 planes and more than 1,000 lives – fully one-third of the men who flew this route over “the roof of the world.” After the war, he was honorably discharged in 1946 from the U.S. Army Air Force as a first lieutenant and returned to Indiana to begin his life as a civilian.
On Nov. 26, 1946, he was married to Lorabel (Ferverda) Wildman, and later moved to Nappanee. Their first of five children was born in 1948. They shared 73 years of marriage together before she passed away on April 15, 2019.
After working as a fuel oil distributor for Standard Oil, Wildman launched his career as a businessman and entrepreneur with the purchase of a dry-cleaning business in Nappanee. He sold that business in 1963 and moved with his family to Warsaw, where he became a partner in a local dry-cleaning business.
Several years later, Wildman purchased the Buffalo Street Cleaners and Laundry, which became the foundation for what is now the Wildman Business Group. It is a Warsaw-based company with over 200 employees that is still thriving today under a third generation of family owners.
Wildman was active in his local church, Warsaw Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Warsaw, having served in every lay leadership position over the years. He contributed to the vitality of his local community through service and public spiritedness. He was a member of the Kiwanis International service organization in Nappanee and Warsaw, serving as president of the Warsaw club in 1985. He was a member of the Warsaw City Council from 1980 to 1984. He humbly accepted the great honor of being named the April 2019 Veteran of the Month at the Kosciusko County Commissioners meeting. He shared that moment surrounded by several generations of his family and was publicly thanked for his brave service to our country.
He will be lovingly remembered by his four sons and son-in-law: Steve (Susan) Wildman, Boulder, Colo.; Kent (Roxanne) Wildman, Warsaw; Brent (Karen) Wildman, Winona Lake; Rod (Nancy) Wildman, Winona Lake; and Robert Long, Warsaw. He also leaves behind 15 grandchildren; 22 great-grandchildren; four sisters: Claris Kilmer, Milford; Carol Lee (Lloyd) Thomas, Florida; Jeri (Lynn) Stookey-Shipley, Leesburg; Mary (Jim) Redman, Leesburg; a sister-in-law: Betty (wife of Walter) Wildman; and four brothers: Joe (Joan) Wildman, Wisconsin; Doyne (Gwen) Wildman, Liberty; Dean Wildman, Warsaw; and Bill (Nellie) Wildman, Florida.
He was preceded in death by his parents; wife: Lorabel Wildman; a daughter, Wendy Long; a grandson, Jason Wildman; a brother: Walter Wildman; his brother-in-law, Orville (husband of Claris) Kilmer; and his sister-in-law: Betty (wife of Dean) Wildman.
The memorial service for Rex Wildman has been cancelled due to concerns about the risks of public gatherings during the current pandemic. The family will be pursuing other means to honor his memory.