Famous E.L. resident, "Willie the Can Man" remembered by MSU community
Wilson Brown, a former homeless man known throughout East Lansing for his generosity and vibrant personality, died Tuesday of cancer at age 56, the Lansing State Journal reports.
Better known as “Willie the Can Man,” Brown was beloved byy many in the community and known for his helpful attitude, identified by shirts with slogans such as “Don’t be silly, give your cans to Willie.”
Brown is survived by his ex-wife, Sheleatha Davis-Brown, and their daughter, according to the State Journal.
Luke Hackney is the president of RetroDuck, the company that printed shirts for Brown.
A friend mentioned printing shirts for Brown and they ran with the idea, Hackney said.
“We had our graphic designer design something and we gave (Brown) an initial run of shirts and it just sprang from there,” Hackney said.
Brown was always willing to help with anything that needed to be done, Hackney said.
“He’d see us unloading 20, 30 boxes in the morning and he would just start grabbing boxes and helping us up the steps,” Hackney said. “A lot of people have stories like that. I’ve noticed on a lot of social media, a lot of people have a lot of stories of him helping with flat tires, mowing lawns, doing just about anything.”
Gregory Farhat, a local business owner, started the “Willie the Can Man’s Fan Club” Facebook page as an MSU student back in the mid 2000’s, where many are sharing pictures they’ve taken with Brown.
Farhat said he met Brown when he offered to shovel his sidewalk, even after Farhat could not pay him. Brown shoveled the walk in exchange for soup and a sandwich, then returning to shovel again the next two days without even asking.
“He wasn’t afraid to work,” Farhat said. “I would ask for his help… he’d show up an hour before me and pretty much have most of the work done before I even woke up to meet him there when we scheduled it… he was that type of a person, where as much as he’d have fun with everybody and live it up with a lot of college kids, he was pretty darn responsible and respectable when it came to getting stuff done… I know that’s something he’s gonna be remembered for.”
Kevin Hagan of East Lansing’s Hagan Realty said Brown has been a constant presence in the community for as long as he’s known him, and would do odd jobs for the business and occasionally hang out on his porch.
“He would come to our office pretty much daily, talk about sports that happened the night before… he was constantly talking about what was going on in East Lansing,” Hagan said. “The biggest thing with him was he’d always have a good spirit and (was) having a good time, and that I thought was contagious amongst everyone that he was around.”
Hagan started a GoFundMe page for Brown’s funeral expenses that has raised almost three times its initial goal in less than a day. Hagan said he is in contact with Davis-Brown and they are ironing out the details for Brown’s service.
“It feels great, not for me but just the fact the he’s obviously touched everyone here in the community,” Hagan said. “The goal was $1,200, was to get him cremated, as far as the money that we’ve raised now, we’re able to have a bigger service and a more proper funeral.”
A representative of Paradise Funeral Chapel and Arrangement Services said service arrangements had not been made as of Thursday.