Weldon Whitis, a longtime Killeen businessman, developer and community leader, died Friday at a Temple hospital after a lengthy illness. He was 81.
Over the past three decades, Whitis and his son Bruce had a hand in many of the Killeen area’s residential and commercial developments, including Turtle Bend, Yowell Ranch and Savannah Heights subdivisions, as well as Market Heights, Seton Medical Center Harker Heights and much of the U.S. Highway 190’s “Restaurant Row.”
Starting with a small electrical contracting business in 1958 after a four-year stint in the Air Force, Whitis became a developer who eventually was responsible for more than half of the commercial real estate along U.S. 190 from Jasper Road to Harker Heights.
“A person can’t be any better than that,” local homebuilder Don Farek said of Whitis, his friend of more than 50 years.
Farek said although Whitis accomplished a lot in his career as a developer, he never expected any accolades for his contributions.
“He was a decent, good man,” said Farek, owner of Cameo Homes. “He was a very sharp businessman, and an honorable person. His word was his bond.”
Bill Yowell, a local landowner and businessman, said Whitis was not only a good friend, but “a very fine person.”
“He was a very nice man, and a good businessman,” Yowell said. “It’s always a pleasure to be associated with Weldon.”
Farek described Whitis as a leader in the community, who took charge in the area when the population was less than 20,000 residents. “He had an electrical business, pawn shops and got involved in building apartments and all kind of different businesses,” he said. “He had a lot of influence on things that happened in the community.”
Vision for development
Bruce Whitis, who started working with his father after earning a civil engineering degree from Texas A&M University, said his father had a vision for development, even when some retailers expressed skepticism.
“We had to put together three pieces of property to create the Market Heights development,” Whitis said. “It required lots of acquisition over the long term.”
The same was true of the Seton hospital property, he said.
Pat Christ, a Harker Heights councilman, said he worked with Weldon Whitis on several occasions, and the fruits of Whitis’ ideas helped drive development in Killeen and Harker Heights.
“Every time I have ever dealt with him, he was straightforward, honest and an all-around good guy,” Christ said. “He had thoughts and ideas of what needed to be done. He had foresight of what could be done and where we needed to go, and I think that he has done extremely good things.”
Whitis was born July 14, 1932, in Killeen to Len and Edna Whitis. The family made their home in the Owl Creek community near Gatesville but were forced to move to Killeen when the Army needed their land to create Fort Hood.
Whitis graduated from Killeen High School, playing football for Leo Buckley and boxing in the Golden Gloves program.
While in the Air Force, Whitis married Nancy Mae Conder on Feb. 27, 1953, in New Brunswick, N.J.
Not long after getting out of the service, Whitis started Weldon’s Electric, which the couple operated for about 25 years.
In 1975, he opened Action Pawn at its original location on Rancier Avenue.
From 2004 to 2007, Whitis also was involved in the ownership and management of Automax Ford, which is now a major part of the U.S. 190 commercial corridor.
He was a 32nd-degree Mason, and was involved with the Association of the U.S. Army and Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke said the business community along with west Bell County will feel Whitis’ absence.
“He was a strong supporter of the law enforcement community, and west Bell County’s growth can be directly attributed to Weldon’s hard work and his personal ability to perceive the future needs of our community,” Cooke said.
Cooke said Whitis was the kind of person who “would go to any lengths to help a person in need.”
Survivors include Nancy Whitis; four sons, Bruce, Brent, Barton and Bradley; a sister, Dorothy “Dot” Ashworth; and nine grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Killeen. Visitation is from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, and will feature a fish fry. Burial will be at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.