He was adopted by the Billings family, who staked claim to 140 acres of farmland on the north end of town. He would call that land home for the next 90 years.

John Billings, the long-time owner of Billings Farm in Ashland, died Wednesday afternoon after several months on hospice care. He was 97.

Friends and family are remembering him as a compassionate local leader, and a dedicated member of the Rotary Club, who loved his community and dedicated his life to its service.

He is survived by his four children: Stan, Mary, Tim and Ginny Billings. They remember their father as an active civil servant who valued education and philanthropy as much as he valued working on his farm.

"Dad was such a fantastic guy," Mary Billings. "He really wanted to do all he could for his community."

John Billings moved to Ashland in 1919, after losing his birth parents in the flu pandemic. He was adopted by the Billings family, who staked claim to 140 acres of farmland on the north end of town. He would call that land home for the next 90 years.

"He was a fine gentleman," said former city councilor Don Laws, who knew Billings through his work for the town. "He had tons of friends, and made numerous contributions to his community."

Those contributions included active service in World War II, a stint with the city planning commission and years of volunteer work for his church. But he made his greatest impact through a life-long commitment to the Ashland Rotary Club. One of its most admired members, Billings held perfect attendance at club meetings — for 62 consecutive years.

"Everyone loved John," said Rotary Club spokesman Pete Belcastro. "He's done so much for the city of Ashland over the years."

Billings' entire family was by his bedside when he passed away at around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Kim Lewis, the husband of Ginny Billings, John's youngest daughter, said Billings had become a father figure to him since he joined the family in 1979.

"He was not only one of my closest friends and mentors. He was also a Christian inspiration of the Rotary Club's motto of service," Lewis said. "He was a great man."

Billings is known by many around town for his efforts to have a championship-caliber golf course built on his farmland. But family members say there is much more to the man who called Ashland his home for nearly a century. Mary James said his focus in life was always to put others before him.

"He just wanted to be the kind of person that people could look up to. He tried to help out whenever he could," she said.

A public memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3. The service is to be held at the First United Methodist Church, located at 175 North Main St. in Ashland. Mary James said the public is invited to attend the service, which will begin at 11 a.m. She said she hopes her father will be remembered for the spirit of community he instilled in others, and for the tireless work he put into making Ashland a friendly and close-knit community.

"He was always out there looking out for his neighbors," Mary James said. "He was a real special man."

The Billings farm is to be divided among John's four children.