Son, father, brother, former savings and loan executive, World War II B-17 navigator, proud University of Wisconsin alumnus, person of faith, philanthropist, all describe long-time Wartburg Theological Seminary supporter Ken Becker of Lodi, Wisconsin. They also take you to the heart of his generosity.
Ken grew up in a family that despite having limited resources was always generous. “My dad was a janitor at the church for a while and every month they gave a dollar to the church. Growing up during the Depression, needy people would come around and my mother always had a sandwich for them,” said Ken. Times were tough. Ken shared that his mother made most of his clothes from hand me downs from other people. Many of their family meals consisted of one piece of bread with a little bit of sugar and milk on it because that was all there was to eat. “What the Lord has given me now…well, I can have more than a piece of bread for supper!” reflects Ken.
Ken was baptized, went to Sunday School and was confirmed at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. After graduation, Ken wanted to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, but his parent did not have the money for his tuition. Instead, Ken went to vocational school in Milwaukee as a sheet metal apprentice. After a year, Ken’s older sister told him, “You are going to school.” She helped him find a job at the local A&P and Ken enrolled at Northwestern College in Watertown, Wisconsin. With a $60 inheritance from his grandfather and with the money that Ken had saved, he had the $100.00 he needed to attend school.
“My dad bought me a pair of shoes for $6.00 and I had my suit that I graduated high school in and at a garage sale, I got a sports coat for 75 cents. I had two ties. At Northwestern in those days, I’d wear my suit one day with one tie and my sports coat the next day with another tie. I worked all day Saturday and two nights a week at the A&P, so I helped a little bit what I could in the apartment with my sister,” Ken said.
Ken applied to the aviation cadets, but while at Northwestern, they offered to make him an officer right away if he signed up for the military. Ken enlisted, was called to duty and at the same time was also accepted into the cadet program. “While I was in service, most of my money went home so I could finish school. When I was in Italy for three years and receiving officer’s pay and combat pay, 100% of my check went to my savings account so I could finish school at the University of Wisconsin upon my return,” commented Ken.
Generosity is simple to Ken. He is just giving back to God all that God has given to him. “For the first 10 to 12 minutes every morning, I thank God for my blessings,” shared Ken. “I ask God, ‘What is the best thing I can do today with all that you have given me?’”
One of Ken’s passions is continuing education and raising up future leaders in the church. A way that Ken partners with WTS in the formation of future church leaders is through charitable gift annuities. “Gift annuities just make sense! I receive a regular income, get a tax deduction and have the joy of giving. It’s actually kind of selfish! I get so much more than I give,” commented Ken.
What Ken Becker wants most is for his generosity to be contagious. He wants everyone to feel the joy of giving back to God all that God has given to us.
Reprinted from Walking Together with permission from the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.