John W. Tilton

John W. “Jac” Tilton, 77, passed February 18, 2024, at home at peace after an eight-month illness.

Born December 28, 1946, in central Illinois, Jac moved to the tri-state area in 1969 to teach art in the Galena Public Schools. Known to this day as “Mr. T”, his classes combined creativity with humor and fun. Jac taught for 12 years before transferring his creative skills to Dubuque-area publishing and communication businesses for over 35 years. He retired from the University of Dubuque.

Despite his professional responsibilities, Jac never lost sight of his twin passions: fine art and music. In 2017 he achieved his life-long dream of becoming a full-time watercolorist. His paintings were featured in both national and international watercolor exhibits, adorned the walls of many Midwestern galleries and were published in compilations of the best American painters. Jac played most anything with strings, participating in a number of bluegrass and old-time music groups.

Jac was known for his quick wit, funny stories, eclectic reading habits, and an encyclopedia-like interest in a wide range of topics, from foreign languages and politics to nature and Taoism. He also enjoyed traveling, kayaking and camping.

Jac had a fiercely private and independent streak yet was incredibly loyal to his loved ones. He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Chris Chapin-Tilton; Doug Tilton, of Dubuque, his children and grandson; Shannon (Dee) Wulf, of East Troy, WI, their children and grandchildren; Aaron Tilton of Berlin, Germany; Drake (Ashley) Tilton of Dubuque; Yvonne Scott, of Carbondale, IL, her children and grandchildren; Jim (Trish) Tognacci, of Fountain Hills, AZ; and Marilyn Tognacci of Chandler, AZ, her children and grandchildren. He was predeceased by his parents and Louis Tognacci.

To his loved ones, Jac left two final quotes: one from Pete Seeger and the other a “Jac original.”  From Pete: “Life is like a song. Just about the time you have it figured out, it’s over.” From Jac: “Keep practicing.” And he lived by those words to the end.

A memorial art show will be held in Jac’s honor at the University of Dubuque on Friday, Sept. 27. A private Celebration of Life will be held at the Galena Center for Arts on Sat., Sept. 28, following a committal of his ashes at Casper Creek Natural Cemetery.

Memorials may be sent directly to the Galena Center for the Arts and the University of Dubuque to support arts education projects in Jac’s memory. In addition, Jac and Chris have developed a line of merchandise featuring Jac’s artwork, which will be available in select area locations with all profit contributed to the two memorial funds. 

The Tilton family would like to recognize Dr. Mark Hermann and staff at the Integrated Cancer Center and the Hospice of Dubuque staff for their outstanding and truly compassionate care of Jac.

Leonard Funeral Home & Crematory, Dubuque, Iowa assisted the family. Online condolences may be left at

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