Barbara Helen Cornwell passed away peacefully at Agrace Hospice in Madison, Wisconsin on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at the age of 81.
Barbara was born on July 1, 1937 in Staten Island, New York. She spent her childhood in Peoria, Illinois with parents Helen (Barwick) and Elmer Heggemeier along with her younger sister Joan and their younger brother Larry. In 1955, Barbara graduated from Woodruff High School with academic honors. She was then employed as a bank teller at a Peoria bank for many years. During a social outing at the local YMCA, Barbara met a handsome, witty Bradley University graduate, William ("Bill") Cornwell. They fell in love and were married in Peoria on May 13, 1959. Bill enlisted in the U.S. Air Force shortly after their marriage and soon became an agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigation. During the early days of Bill's military career, the young couple was relocated to various Air Force bases in Waco, TX, Tacoma, WA, and Trenton, NJ. Their first child, Janice was born in Tacoma and second child, Susan was born in Trenton. Bill was next assigned to Clark Air Base in the Philippines near Manila in 1968. The young family of four had amazing adventures living overseas! However, they soon returned to Barbara's and Bill's midwestern roots when Bill accepted a position in 1971 as an agent with the narcotics division of the Illinois Bureau of Special Investigation in Springfield, Illinois. As their daughters thrived and matured, Barbara's role as Springfield homemaker lessened and she successfully pursued an accounting degree from the local community college in the late 1970's. She worked in accounting for the State of Illinois' Department of Commerce and Community Affairs for over a decade.
Barbara's life took an unexpected turn when Bill tragically passed away from brain cancer in 1982 at the young age of 45. As a single working mother with two teenage daughters, Barbara persevered. The family remained in Springfield where she continued working for the State of Illinois utilizing her accounting skills. She fiercely supported both daughters during their academic careers resulting in college degrees for Janice and Susan in the late 1980's. Shortly after daughter Susan's joyful wedding to Donovan Hansen in 1989, Barbara left Springfield and moved to the Chicago suburbs near Susan and Don's area. She continued working for the State of Illinois and commuted by Metra train to the James R Thompson Center in The Loop. Her lunch hours often exceeded 60 minutes as the nearby Marshall Field's store lured her in! Barbara's Chicago relocation was especially fortuitous when her first grandchild, William Hansen, was born in 1990. Her role as grandmother grew as she welcomed first granddaughter, Kelsey Hansen in 1993. Barbara gained another son-in-law when daughter Janice married Gary Unertl in 1997. And more grandchildren followed: Cooper Unertl in 1999, Kendall Hansen in 2000, and finally Ava Unertl in 2003.
Barbara took an early retirement from her state job in the late 1990's and dreamed of living in warmer climates. She moved to The Villages, Florida in 2004 with her longtime companion, Jim Gutman. Her life in Florida was full of golf outings, bridge clubs, swimming, fine dining, mahjongg clubs, cruises, and acting in local theater productions. She also found time to go to clown school and often performed as Dimples the Clown in parades and at nursing homes. Her family made frequent trips to Grandma Barb's house in Florida for Spring Break vacations and Christmas vacations. They could always count on Barbara's high energy to keep the family entertained with many different activities in The Villages such as line dancing in the town square, archery lessons, shuffleboard, pickle ball, and numerous games of mahjongg. Simple activities like driving Grandma's golf cart to the grocery store were always a thrill for the family! Barbara delighted in these visits from the Hansens and the Unertls.
In 2016, Barbara made one final move from Florida to Madison, Wisconsin to be closer to family. She had received a diagnosis of early onset dementia in 2015 which motivated her to relocate. Barbara was very active with the mahjongg club at her senior living center in Madison and enjoyed being with her family for birthdays and holidays. Her dementia progressed rapidly eventually resulting in her recent admission to hospice. Her family is forever grateful to the compassionate care provided by the staff at Agrace Hospice in Madison during her final weeks.
Barbara is survived by her daughters, Janice (Gary) Unertl of Madison, WI and Susan (Donovan) Hansen of Gurnee, IL; brother, Larry (Linda) Gann of Palm Harbor, FL; five grandchildren, Wil Hansen of Palatine, IL, Kelsey Hansen of Gurnee, IL, Kendall Hansen of Gurnee, IL, Cooper Unertl of Madison, WI, and Ava Unertl of Madison, WI. She is preceded in death by her beloved husband, William Cornwell and by her beloved sister, Joan Guiliano.
Cremation rites will be accorded. Burial of ashes at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.