In 1918, Joseph S. Willis, M.Div., was born in El Paso, Texas, where he and his family remained throughout the Great Depression. He graduated in 1939 from Texas College of Mines (now University of Texas at El Paso), with a double major in biology and English. After a year of graduate work in biology, Willis entered the Princeton Theological Seminary, where he completed his Master of Divinity degree in 1943.
He was ordained in the same year and over the following decade served Presbyterian churches in New Jersey, Texas, New Mexico, and Illinois. Hoping to find resolution to some long-held misgivings, Willis entered the doctoral program at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. These years served as a turning point, as he soon realized he could "do theology" in a different way.
From 1955 to 1967, he served as interdenominational University Pastor at the University of New Mexico. When he resigned in 1967, he began working in Albuquerque public schools as a teacher and counselor until his retirement in 1981. During this time, he also began to paint and sell landscapes through galleries in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado.
After moving to Colorado in 1990, he once again became an active minister, doing pastoral work and teaching adult education classes. Today, he is Minister Emeritus at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and continues teaching adult classes at Jefferson and in a local Methodist congregation. He lives in Arvada, Colorado, near Denver.