Ken Willig was born in 1934 just after the great depression. His mother died when he
was not yet five. His father, Edward, was a hard working man who did numerous extra jobs in order to support and
raise Ken and his two older brothers.
Ken was raised on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio in a devout Catholic environment. He attended
parochial grade and college prep schools. His leadership capabilities first became apparent while at Purdue
University where he became Captain of the Purdue Cheerleaders and later president of the senior men's honorary, the
Gimlet Club. He graduated from Purdue with a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering and as a 2nd Lieutenant in the
Shortly after graduation in 1958, he married Caryl in Cincinnati and then embarked on his career with
a very short stint in Milwaukee as a Sales Engineer Trainee with P&H (Harnischfeger Corporation). Then, he
reported for duty in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps as an officer, at the Aberdeen Proving grounds in Maryland.
Following his tour in the Army, Ken and his pregnant wife moved back to Milwaukee where he began his
business career with P&H as a Sales Engineer. (Initially, to augment their income, he also sold furniture at a
local store in the evenings.) A Vice President of P&H named Jack Catalane mentored Ken. Catalane took chances
with Ken and promoted him to National Sales Manager of P&H's Small Excavator Division when Ken was only 24.
The next three years were very successful and pivotal for Ken. As National Sales Manager, he traveled
to every sales district in the United States where he conducted sales meetings promoting the products of the Small
Excavator Division. He also picked the brains of the owners of the many distributorships he visited. Ken's
enthusiasm was contagious, that combined with his energy, initiative and charismatic people skills brought in sales
and catapulted his career.
Catalane promoted him to District Manager of Los Angeles. Catalane's idea was to get Ken more
experience in the field with all the products of the P&H line of excavators and cranes. After Ken was in LA for
only a year, Catalane visited and told him to prepare to return to Milwaukee soon to be promoted to his job as
Catalane anticipated being made Executive VP of P&H.
The next day, Ken did a very gutsy thing�he resigned and asked Catalane for his support to get P&H
to cancel its current LA Dealer, and to name Ken the new Dealer for P&H in Southern California�and also to
provide the capital and financing Ken would need. After Catalane saw that Ken was serious, he cautioned that Ken
think long and hard about the super career at P&H that he was leaving behind and told Ken that if he felt the
same way in a week, to write the letter of resignation and request to be financed and named the LA Dealer, and mail
it to the President of P&H. Catalane warned him, that regardless of which way it fell thereafter, that Ken's
career with P&H would be ended.
Ken's handwritten letter (of which he still has a carbon copy) was mailed a week later.
Ken was invited back to Milwaukee to meet with various Officers of the Corporation to discuss
possibilities. It was at that time, 1963, that Bank of America had come out with the first credit card, the
BankAmerica Card. Ken got one and with it borrowed $200 on it, enough to get him roundtrip to Milwaukee with a few
dollars in his pocket. Among those who had to approve of Ken's proposal was the VP of Finance, Gil Schmus, whom Ken
knew well. Ken took his interview with Schmus seriously and took copious notes of Gil's advice. Afterward, Schmus
recommended that P&H finance Ken and name him the P&H dealer�his basis for his support was the note taking
that Ken did when in Gil's office.
Thus, at age 28, with an exaggerated net worth of $6,000, Ken was named the P&H
Distributor for Southern California in fall of 1963 and Willig Equipment Company (�WEC�) was born. Amazingly, Ken
had been in LA for only one year, and now was starting his own company to compete against well-established dealers
with long standing reputations.
Once again, due a great deal to Ken's enthusiasm, analytical mind and competitive instincts, he
somehow convinced the best sales, service and finance people in the industry to join him in this new enterprise. It
all started in an office trailer but with the right people�that was the key�the right people�professional people
with integrity, skill and a desire to serve the customer to the very best of their abilities. The P&H product
line was excellent, the major construction projects market was booming, and WEC had the right people. The long
established competitors in LA laughed at this new start-up. No matter�in its first year WEC became the 3rd largest P&H
Dealer in the USA.
From 1963 to 1969, in just six short years, WEC began to represent numerous manufacturers, not only P&H,
and won repeated �Top Dealer in the USA� awards.
By 1969, Ken's wife, Caryl, had given birth to six lovely children�four boys then two
girls. When the first girl, Susan, arrived, he celebrated�he finally had his little girl. Ken loves his children. He
raised them to love God, respect others, and live meaningful lives. Ken believes that discipline is a very important
part of love. He was a strict father. All six attended Catholic or Christian schools.
Ken was very active in the Catholic Church and taught Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine classes
every week to high school students. He read the scriptures at mass on Sunday's.
Ken had many friends, a great, loving and healthy family; large lovely home with swimming pool;
live-in domestic help; entertained in the best restaurants; traveled with his family extensively; and felt God's
blessings in every way possible.
But, the 60's started to take its toll on his marriage. During the 60's, the Vietnam and hippie era,
and even more significantly the decade of the radical moral revolution, everything that was tied down�all
traditional values'seemed to come loose and got twisted around�alcohol, drugs, sex, no-fault divorce,
do-what-you-feel-like-doing living�the culture da-jour-assaulted Ken's marriage. He and Caryl, with six lovely
children, separated and subsequently divorced. Ken moved to Newport Beach - later Caryl and the children did also as
they attempted to reconcile.
In 1970, Ken sold WEC to Clark Equipment Company for a million dollars (a lot of money then). He
continued to direct the operations of WEC for Clark and subsequently became the General Manger of all of Clark's
eleven construction equipment companies - five on the east coast and six in California. That turned out to be a major
undertaking. He had to deal with all sorts of unethical issues, stealing, misrepresentations, and people problems
that required a complete reorganization. He had never encountered such dishonesty and deception in business before.
It was a tremendous learning experience. He prevailed against all sorts of opposition.
In Newport Beach, Ken started construction on a custom home in Big Canyon where he could raise his
six children. That was finished in 1972 and gradually, each of the children came to live with him. He had live-in
help plus a nanny whom he equipped with a VW van to take the children where they needed to go, pick them up, care
for them, and even traveled with him and the children.
During the 1970's, while enjoying considerable success at a young age, Ken lived life in the fast
lane. Newport Beach was his playground. He became a member of the Balboa Bay Club and took up tennis. He played
often when he was in town. It was during this time that he gradually notched down his moral character. The
combination of his pleasure seeking, immoral behavior and his religious beliefs left him with the dilemma of dealing
with persistent guilt and being alienated from his religion and he assumed meant from God too. He was in and out of
the confessional so often it was like a revolving door.
In 1971, he and John Wayne met at Duke's home and Ken showed him how to
play Backgammon. Duke loved table games and on occasion would invite Ken over for more backgammon. That started a
friendship that led to the two of them designing and building a tennis club as partners. It opened in fall of 1973
and was fully completed in spring of 1974. Ken was the only person John Wayne entrusted with the use of his name
during his lifetime for a business endeavor, the John Wayne Tennis Club in Newport Beach, California. Ken takes
significant pride in that honor of trust by Wayne. Later Duke wrote Ken,
"We did it, thanks to you. Duke"
In 1974, the President of Clark advised Ken that he had two years to move back to the new corporate
headquarters in Buchanan, Michigan. No chance Ken would let that happen. So, in 1975, Ken wrapped up his business
with Clark. His efforts had been successful. The corrupt practices in these eleven companies were now gone, they
were profitable, and Ken sold them one by one to various buyers. Clark was happy and Ken's only business was his
hobby, the tennis club with his friend Duke Wayne in Newport Beach. This meant lots of time with family and lots of
But true happiness eluded Ken. He had lots of fun and pleasure, socialized with the "beautiful
people", had a second home in Palm Springs, played tennis everywhere, but because of his sinful lifestyle he could
not receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church. He still read the scriptures at mass on Sunday's and continued to
teach Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine, but could not receive Holy Communion.
Then, in 1977, Ken's nephew, Jim Willig, was to be ordained a priest in Cincinnati. Ken's brother
insisted that he be there.
"This is a family affair. You must be there." Ken went. It was in the same
cathedral where Ken had been married to Caryl 19 years before. He was embarrassed to be there so he went to the
balcony alongside the altar where he took pictures with his telephoto lens of the ceremony. He looked down at the
carpet around the altar - the same carpet that was there for his wedding. That started memories, reflections, and
sorrow. The Holy Spirit used this occasion to convict Ken of his sinfulness and to regenerate him.
At the time, all he knew was that he sensed God's presence. He shared that experience with his newly
ordained nephew that afternoon. It was the first confession that Jim heard. The "penance" he gave Ken was to go home
and seek the answer to his dilemma in prayer and in the Bible. Rather strange advice from a Catholic, both Ken and
Ken went to the local non-denominational, Bible teaching church in Newport Beach Mariners Church. The
Pastor, Joe Aldrich, spoke on
Justification by Faith Alone. That resonated with Ken. He then started
meeting with Pastor Joe on a weekly basis. Joe gave Ken an NIV New Testament. Each week Ken would bring his
questions and Joe would show him the answers in the Bible. It wasn't long after, in 1977, while in his condo alone
in Palm Springs, that Ken got on his knees and asked God's forgiveness for his sins (not at all like in the
confessional - this was different) and asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. Ken was born-again. Then, for the first
time ever, he had peace with God-real and lasting peace-through Jesus Christ.
In 1980 he wrote a book called
The Free Gift, which is about his search to resolve his dilemma and to come
to peace with God. He wrote it to communicate what he learned and to share with the reader what constitutes
authentic Christianity. Being a Christian has significantly enhanced the life of this already successful
businessman, but more importantly provided him peace with God and with that true happiness.
The Free Gift has had 8 printings and editions, and more than 50,000 copies
have been given away much to Ken's delight in the Lord.
Ken has spoken at Catholic and Protestant churches, to business groups, to professional sports teams,
and even to inmates at San Quentin. He also has been interviewed on
"Know Your Bible Hour" and appeared on the TV show, the
When 1980 rolled around, Ken was a different man. He had his children
living with him and his lifestyle was social but not in the fast lane. In fact, he was making plans to move his
family to Oregon when he met Noreen in a tailor shop while with his son Mark. Ken told her she was his idea of a
"perfect 10." She claims with that she fell in love and knew she would marry him. On their first date for lunch,
when she got into Ken's car, he said, "I have six children and they all live with me. Do you sill want to go to
lunch?" She did. They were married by Joe Aldrich nine moths later on October 11, 1980. Ken claims that, apart from
Jesus Christ, Noreen is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
In 1981, Ken, Noreen and all six children moved to La Jolla, California. They built a showplace home
overlooking the ocean, with tennis court and swimming pool. Three children went to Santa Fe Christian School, the
others either working or in college. He founded CEO (Christian Executive Officers), which to this day meets monthly
for fellowship and accountability.
In 1984, Ken entered the cellular business when it was in its infancy. He
founded CelluLand in San Diego. That company became a franchisor and developed a national chain of cellular retail
centers. Ken was an early pioneer of the retail cellular business. In 1987, he received the Ernst & Young and
"Entrepreneur of the Year" award for Southern California.
In 1989, a group of businessmen, pooled the funds to purchase the Santa Fe Christian K-12 Schools.
They asked Ken to become its President and Headmaster to reorganize, improve its education, grow it, and position it
as an institution that excels in Christian education. With unanimous support of its Board, Noreen agreed that Ken
could accept that challenge. She clearly cautioned the Board that with Ken at the helm, things would happen fast and
In one year, God used Ken to replace 24 teachers and the two principals. Only a few were fired, most
quit because they did not want a businessman a non-education background type-directing the schools. With the
encouragement of the Holy Spirit and the backing of SFC's Board, he changed it to a Primary School, a Middle School,
and a College Prep School. He changed the curriculum to use only Christian textbooks (much to the objection of the
teachers). He improved and enlarged the campus and put the school on solid financial ground.
He describes that year as the most challenging, difficult and frustrating experience of his career.
Today, SFC excels in everything academic and extracurricular. It has grown from 550 when Ken was there to half again
as many the max allowable by local building code. It has an endowment and a waiting list for entrance. It is a
'solid' center of Christian education. It was not pleasant going through it but is a major blessing for Ken in
In 1990, Ken and Noreen, with their children all out of the nest, decided to leave California and
jointly selected Seattle for their next residence. While in Southern California, Ken was a guest adjunct professor
at Loyola Marymount University in LA for 10 years. He spoke in the business graduate school twice per year. The
President of City University in Seattle knew this so when Ken arrived he was invited to become the Director of the
MBA Program in Entrepreneurship at City University. Ken accepted and designed and taught the six core course for
that MBA program. That led to Ken becoming a Management Consultant too.
Ken had noticed that his stamina had become less and less and his tennis game not as strong as it
once was. It became harder to walk up hills, or work out on his treadmill. His children just told him it's because
you are almost 60 and no longer the young stud you once were. But on July 5th, 1993, Ken had difficulty walking off
an airplane. He went to his doctor the next day who immediately put Ken in the hospital for tests.
The cardiologist gave him an angiogram, and on a hunch, took several biopsies of Ken's heart. A few
days later, the cardiologist told Noreen and Ken that he had a very rare, incurable and fatal disease called cardiac
amyloidosis and that he had less than a year to live. That there was no cure - all such cases in the past were fatal,
and that he would try to make Ken comfortable as possible and extend his life as much as possible with various
medications. But there was no cure; nor would transplant help as cases where that was tried the amyloid simply
attacked the new heart and the recipient died within two weeks of transplant.
Ken and Noreen began to prepare for the next year. But both maintained their normal schedules. This
news was, of course, a shock but not devastating. After getting this news, Ken went for a walk and prayed. He
accepted the news with peace because he knew he was headed for eternity with God�just a little earlier than he had
imagined. But the one thing that puzzled Ken and that he posed to the Lord Jesus Christ, was he wondered why God had
not used him more significantly to His glory than He had.
As the months past, Ken prayed more and more about that why hadn't God used him more significantly
than He had? The next spring when Ken and Noreen were in Hawaii, Ken was in his quiet time in the early morning at
the beach and once again quizzed of the Lord that same question. This time, the Holy Spirit gave him the answer�
�Ken, what is significant to Me is not what is significant to you. What is significant to Me is for you to obey Me in the little things, the things that no one sees. That you have not done.� The
words were not audible but clear none the same. Ken felt like he had been hit right between the eyes.
Just before Ken's year was up, he was speaking to a group of CEO's in Bellevue, Washington.
Afterward, a man from the audience came up and told Ken that he thought his cousin who was the Governor of
Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, had the same disease Ken had. Casey was alive after a heart and liver transplant. This man
put Ken in contact with Casey, who by phone, for over an hour, insisted that Ken try to get a liver and a heart
transplant. That started Ken and Noreen on that mission. But no hospital would see Ken. Finally, the University of
California at San Diego saw Ken and said they would give him a heart transplant as an experiment but that Ken would
be dead before he got to the top of their list.
Armed with that news, Ken's cardiologist in Seattle persuaded the University of Washington Medical
Center to see Ken. Time was of the essence - the year was almost up. UWMC told Ken they would do extensive testing and
if there was no sign of any amyloid in any other organ but his heart, they might take it to the transplant
committee, and that committee might put Ken on the transplant list, but even if that all happened, Ken would be dead
before all the tests would be done.
Friends, family and even strangers, prayed for Ken regularly that God would grant him a new
Ken went forward with the tests at UWMC. They took months. It was July, then August, then
September�then the phone rang. UWMC said they would transplant Ken and that he needed the next heart as he was about
dead with his present heart. They gave Ken a beeper. R. C. Sproul, who had mentored Ken in his Christian walk came
to town and prayed for Ken to get a new heart. On the morning of October 3rd, John Maxwell, also a friend of Ken's,
spoke at Overlake Christian Church where Ken and Noreen attended. After the service, Maxwell gathered many around
Ken and laid hands on him and prayed, asking God to provide a new heart for Ken very soon. That evening the call
came from UWMC
"Mr. Willig, we have a heart for you."
On October 4th, 1994, Ken received the heart of a 16 year-old boy, a
swimmer from Bellingham, Washington who had been in a car accident. The amazing thing - except to God, of course Who
can do far more than one can imagine - is that Ken is the only living survivor anywhere in history, of this disease,
cardiac amyloidosis, by a heart transplant.
Within two years after transplant, Ken got to the finals of the men's
singles, level two, tennis tournament in Kirkland; he skied from the top of Whistler mountain in B,C.; and he
founded a new management consulting company called GoalMakers that operates and coaches CEO's to this day.
Then, in 1997, when vacationing in Colorado and while in his morning quiet time with the Lord, he
once again asked God why He had not used Ken significantly to His glory. The Holy Spirit responded,
"It is because you still do not obey Me, you still do not trust Me. You, Ken,
especially, after seeing what I did with your heart transplant, should trust Me more than anyone, but you do not.
When you really obey and trust me, not yourself, but Me, then I will use you. Not to do what you want to do, but
what I want to do through you. When that happens, you will know that it was Me doing it not you."
Once again, that was not audible, but it was so clear that when Ken returned to the cabin he immediately wrote it
In 1999, Noreen and Ken bought a winter home in Scottsdale. Ken met Terry Hamlin with Pinnacle Forum.
Later that year Ken went with several men from PF to Pebble Beach for a few days of golf and fellowship. Pinnacle
Forum was exactly the Christian fellowship that Ken was seeking. Ken also met Alan Sears, President of ADF, which
was the perfect ministry for Ken to support and be a part of to change the culture. The Willig's also found a local
church they loved where they were being fed the solid Word of God. Obviously, God had called the Willig's to
Scottsdale. They moved their permanent home there in 2000.
The next year, Ken started facilitating a weekly PF Bible study that Hamlin had arranged. That has
continued until this very day in 2007. It is the highlight of Ken's week where
God is using Ken significantly to His glory. Ken did not start it. He did
not seek it. He trusted God Who provided it.
That same year, Ken and Noreen became Ambassadors for ADF. Ken did not seek that. He trusted God
Who provided it.
God is using Ken significantly to His glory in ADF.
The next year, Merrill Oster invited Ken to join him in forming Pinnacle Forum America, to take PF
national. One thing led to another and the PFA Board invited Ken to be its President. Ken did not seek that. He
trusted God Who provided it.
God used Ken significantly to His glory as President of PFA for over two
years and he still serves on its Board.
Ken is inspiring�an enthusiastic visionary, an entrepreneur and a management and marketing
strategist. He has founded and directed five companies and two banks. He has served on numerous Boards. He also was
Chairman of the Board of Pregnancy Resource Center, and served on the Boards of Heartbeat International and Life
Ken is now 72. He is retired from business but not from God's ministry. He
plays golf frequently. He trusts God constantly. He loves Noreen faithfully. He delights that God finally found him
worthy to use him significantly to His glory.
Noreen and Ken have been married almost 27 years, they have six wonderful
loving children, 13 delightful grandchildren, one spirited horse, one parakeet, and one new puppy. All are in good
health. Ken feels he is the most blessed man in the world.
The Ken Willig Family in 2004 at Mirabel.
April 17, 2007.
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