Known as Joe or Big Joe, Joseph Denk Willis was born in Coal Grove, Ohio on April 9, 1890. He was the son of Landon Taylor and Elizabeth Gates Willis.
Like many young people today, Joe loved to play baseball. He was a member of the Yellow Poplar baseball team from Coal Grove. However, Joe went on to fulfill his dreams of playing professional baseball. In 1911, Willis became a pitcher on the St. Louis Browns. He, also, played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1911 to 1913.
In 1913, Willis was swimming when an accident occurred. His pitching arm was badly injured. His arm never regained its strength. Although his professional baseball career was over, he continued to play on local teams.
On November 21, 1955, a amputated arm was buried in Woodland Cemetery under the name of Joseph Willis.
He married Meribah Bruce. The couple had three daughters, Rosemary, Hilda, and Thelma.
Later in his life, Joe went to live with his daughter, Hilda Willis Hanshaw. He remained with her until his death on December 4, 1966. He was buried in Woodland Cemetery in the same plot with the amputated arm.