Dr. Benjamin Williams, 87, passed away peacefully on June 30, 2021 in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Principal of Percy Julian Middle School, Dr. Williams, and his wife Donna made River Forest their home and dedicated themselves to the Oak Park and River Forest community.
Dr. Williams understood the link between academics, arts, and drama in building confidence in young people. In 1985, he launched CAST — a concept spawned from an afterschool program started “to keep an eye out on children until their parents ‘got home from the Loop.’”
Williams recalled in a 2010 interview with Wednesday Journal, “I just wanted a good program that really respected children.” The idea was to bring in real actors to teach children the craft – not from textbooks, but in real life. Williams called on Jill and Michael Poehlman, a husband-and-wife acting duo who lived in Oak Park at the time, to run the operation.
“The job of a principal is to hire good people and free them up, let them go,” Williams said in the interview. The two married thespians put CAST on the map and ultimately achieved “what few thought possible: Having middle school boys and girls sing and dance on stage.”
Dr. Williams attended Arkansas Baptist College and served in the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army. During this time, he attended Northwestern University and received his Master’s in History and his Ph.D. in Education Administration.
He leaves a legacy of love and a treasure trove of beautiful memories to his wife Donna E. Williams, his son Bennett (Janene) and daughters Kitt (Zim), Ayanna (Kevin), and four granddaughters, Kennedy, Carson, Kai, and Baylee. They will all deeply miss his gentle and kind ways, his radiant smile, and his humor. His positive and inspiring nature, his dedication to service and education positively impacted thousands of lives. Because he lived, we are forever changed.
A celebration of Dr. Williams’s life will be held on July 31, 2021 at St. Andrew By-The-Sea in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Memorial donations can be made to CAST in his name.