Note from Louis Kavanaugh Jr. President of Daviess Co. RTL on Jack & Barb Willke

Dr. and Barb Willke traveled to Daviess County in Oct. of 1980 for one of the first major Banquets and helped to put Daviess County Right To Life on the map. Since then they have returned to speak at two other Banquets, in 1992 and in 2003. I served on the National Right To Life Board as the Delegate from Indiana when Dr. Willke was the President of National Right To Life and I have high regards for him and his wife Barb. There is no question that he has helped to build the Pro-Life Movement in what it is today. He and his wife received the 1980 Pro-Life Award presented by Daviess County Right To Life Group. We will always look at these two great Americans as the Leaders of the Pro-Life Movement who laid the foundation for what we have become today. They were truly fiends of us pro-lifers here in Daviess County. It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of Barb Willke, a great Pro-Life American Lady.

Pro-Life Community Mourns the Loss of Pro-Life Pioneer Barbara Willke


Brad Mattes

On Sunday, April 14, the pro-life community lost one of its most effective and esteemed members, 90-year-old Barbara Willke. She died peacefully after suffering a severe head injury due to a fall. For over four decades, Barbara diligently worked alongside her husband, Dr. J.C. Willke, to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb. While the news of her passing is cause for grief, her legacy will continue to inspire future generations of the pro-life movement. Barbara was instrumental in the founding of Cincinnati Right for Life. From its earliest days, she was a passionate advocate for life using public speaking, slide shows and newsletters to help educate the public to the violence of abortion and positive alternatives. Bradley Mattes, executive director of Life Issues Institute, said, “Barbara was like a mother to me. She and Jack have been my inspiration and mentors for the 38 years I’ve been in the pro-life movement. The impact she and Jack have had on the pro-life movement is immeasurable.

Barbara Willke’s lifework and legacy will continue through the work of Dr. Willke and Life Issues Institute. Intellectually I knew this day would come, but now that it’s here, I realize it’s impossible to be fully prepared. I type this email with a very heavy heart. Barbara Willke, wife of Doctor Jack Willke, passed away Sunday evening. She succumbed to complications of severe head trauma due to a fall in early April. We had just celebrated Barbara’s 90th birthday two months before. Jack spent his 88th birthday at the bedside of his bride. They would’ve been married 65 years in June.

Many of us in the pro-life movement are here because of Jack and Barbara. For me it was my senior year in high school. I was doing a report on abortion and went to the local right to life chapter in Billings, Montana. Mary Rose gave me something called the Willke Handbook on Abortion, the Willke slide set and various other Willke pro-life literature. This was a persuasive speech class, so I first polled my classmates on the topic of abortion, gave my presentation and then polled the class again. Before I spoke, my fellow students were split 50/50 on abortion, but afterward, it was unanimous for life. Early on I realized that pro-life education is at the heart of legislative and political victories to end abortion.

There is no one who will go down in history as being more effective in this life-and-death battle than Jack and Barbara Willke. We used to call them the “parents” of the pro-life movement. As time went on we referred to Dr. Willke as the “grandfather” of the movement, but diplomatically still called Barbara the “mother” of the movement. This medical couple—he a physician and she a nurse—became famous for their pro-life presentations alternating back and forth between them. They have traveled the globe meeting world leaders as they worked to protect innocent human life on other continents.

Barbara didn’t like to take credit, but rather preferred the kudos went to Jack and others. I didn’t get very far late last year when I approached Barbara about having a dinner banquet with the theme of her 90th birthday. She quickly gave the idea two thumbs down.

Jack and Barbara have always held to the philosophy of facing facts and reacting to them. This made them extremely effective as they changed their approach to abortion as society evolved on this issue. Likewise, both were acutely aware that they were in the winter of their lives. The past years had been busy with going through mountains of files and boxes of pro-life materials over the decades—establishing an archive at the local museum and tossing the clutter. They were determined not to saddle that herculean task on someone else.

Even though these heroes of the pro-life movement were intellectually prepared to say goodbye, parting from one another is something they could never fully prepare for. As you can expect, Jack is absolutely devastated over losing his life-partner, and he desperately needs your prayers. Ask that God would provide the comfort and peace eluding him during these dark days.

Please pray that Life Issues Institute will carry on the precious legacy begun by him and Barbara so many years ago. May we follow Barbara’s example of being faithful in running the race to the end.