Willetta Warberg was born on June 2nd, 1932 in Twin Falls, Idaho to Ethel and George Warberg. Willetta had a twin brother, William, and two younger twin sisters, Zoe Ann and Sara Lee (Sally). Willetta began playing the piano at the age of four and gave her first performance when she was eight. It became obvious that she had a great passion for the piano and by the time she was fourteen, had given over 30 recitals throughout the Northwest. Willetta studied at the Colorado Women’s College, The Aspen Music Camp and then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in music from Mannes College in New York City.
Willetta married David Bar-Illan in 1954 with whom she had two children, Daniela and Jeremy. Shortly after they married, it became evident that one serious concert pianist in the family was enough so Willetta embarked on a career in the food industry. Willetta was someone who had an amazing range of talents. Within just over a year and by giving her new endeavor the focus and devotion for which Willetta was so well known, at the age of 24 she was named the Associate Food Editor for Look Magazine. Willetta became Food Editor for Status magazine in 1961 in addition to Photographic Stylist for Gourmet Magazine where she was responsible for styling the magazine’s covers from 1961 to 1964. In 1963, Willetta was named Food Editor for The Ladies Home Journal, a position she held until 1966. A very special experience Willetta often spoke of was her restaurant study done in 1960 in the nascent State of Israel. The project was supported by a program affiliated with the U.S. Department of State. From 1965 through 1975, Willetta was a freelance writer, nutritionist, food consultant and photographic food stylist.Willetta wrote two cookbooks in 1976; Cooking from Scratch: A Single Man’s Guide to Making Out in the Kitchen and Space-Age Cookery: The Complete Handbook of Food Processing. Of the many publications to which Willetta contributed, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Glamour, McCall’s, American Home and Redbook are to name a few. In the late 1970s and much of the 1980s, Willetta owned and operated her own advertising agency, Willetta Enterprises. During that time she introduced the sugar snap pea to contemporary cuisine and contributed to the menus of both Tavern on the Green and The Four Seasons restaurants.
In 1991, Willetta moved to Saugerties and returned full-time to her first passion; music. Willetta became a well respected and sought-after piano coach and teacher in the Saugerties and Woodstock area. Over the next decade, Willetta held annual recitals at her home for her many students as well as play concerts herself, an extremely memorable one being a piano duo with Robert Starer that was highly acclaimed in a number of publications. Willetta got very involved with Maverick Concerts and became a member of the Board of Directors. Not a summer went by without Willetta attending numerous performances at The Maverick, a place where she found joy and peace amongst her fellow lovers of music.
Willetta was also an accomplished painter, seamstress (could have given any number of designers a run for their money), needlepoint aficionado (tapestries so beautiful they could be on the wall at the Vatican museum), a great swimmer and skier and was such an amazing expert in food, could make a respectable holiday dinner with a bag full of ingredients from a convenience store (that actually happened once).
Willetta will be sorely missed by all who knew her. To know Willetta was to love her.
Willetta passed away on Friday, November 18th and is survived by her daughter Daniela Bar-Illan, son Jeremy Bar-Illan, three grandchildren, Julian, Elliot and Ruby and her sister Sara Lee, also known as Sally.