Mrs. Willke shows a special and personal look back as she reflects on how she and Dr. Willke first became involved in the pro-life movement. She tells of their earliest days as pioneers in the pro-life effort.
It was the summer of 1970 and we had been in California speaking at a marriage counselors meeting on the subject of sex education for children. There we met Father Paul Marx. His first question to us was, “What are you doing on abortion?” We explained that our weeks were filled speaking to various groups all over the US and Canada on sex education as well as raising our own children, Jack’s busy medical practice and writing two books and other papers on sex education. We were simply maxed out.
But Father Paul persisted, “If we don’t stop abortion, all the family life values we are working to preserve will be swept away.” Prophetically Jack replied, “If we get involved, it will swallow us up.”
A few weeks later, we spoke on the topic of marriage to a couples’ group at a college in eastern Ohio. After the completion of our talk there was a question and answer session.
Abortion was coming up in the Ohio legislature, and because we were a doctor and nurse, would we answer a few questions on abortion? So it began. We were asked question after question. One young man repeatedly asked, “Why don’t you write a book?”
A short time later, a letter from Father Paul arrived which again urged us to get involved in the abortion debate. “With your credentials and authority as medical people you simply cannot miss such an opportunity.” So Jack wrote a column for our hometown paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, including a description and a picture of the famous 18-week unborn baby from the cover of Life Magazine. The response generated both TV and radio interviews. Who would do these? Jack volunteered.
When several local women decided they wanted to meet and form an organized group, Jack figured that he would help get it started and then others would get interested. In the early days, our address was a PO Box and we widely distributed dues envelopes to build a membership list and start a treasury. We rotated homes until we were graciously offered a meeting room at St. Xavier Church in the center of downtown Cincinnati. It was an interesting, varied, energetic group that met to plan all the details of starting our organization. We distributed information and held educational talks with volunteer presenters. We shared any pro-life article or literature we could find. Such resources were scarce at that time. After one of our talks, Betty and Paul Mossey came up to offer their ideas. “You give a good description of the preborn baby, but if you would use slides it would be more effective.” So Paul produced our first Kodachrome slides, which ultimately grew in number and became known worldwide as the “Willke Slides.”
A real spark was lit while working with attorney, Bob Manley. He brought a list of lawyers and Jack contributed a list of medical doctors to plan a Sunday afternoon forum at the Cincinnati Academy of Medicine auditorium. Three hundred professionals attended. At the conclusion of the meeting, a request for help was made to work on the abortion bill being presented to the Ohio legislature. Attorney Don and Marianne Klekamp came forward to offer their help.
At the next meeting of Cincinnati Right to Life, the Klekamps were elected chair couple. Within a matter of months, they had set up a small office, written a newsletter and hired a part-time office manager, Virginia Kerr, who shortly became full-time most days, but continued at her part-time salary.
Cincinnati Right to Life grew at a rapid rate because of the willingness of so many gifted people who freely contributed their talents and time, which was surely needed. Mike Wagner and Lou Rekers volunteered to write the monthly newsletters. Father Huber and a group of ladies gathered in the St. Xavier church basement to address, bundle and mail them. The last step was bagging and loading them into a car for the trip to the post office.
The local chapters collected the remaining newsletters at the monthly board meetings for distribution in their local areas. The city was divided into twelve geographic areas; each was a “chapter” for education and action.
Locally the newsletters were given out as an educational service. Within a few years it was going locally, nationally and internationally to 75,000 recipients monthly.
Cincinnati Right to Life became an international clearing house for pro-life materials including brochures, bumper strips, billboards and many other items.
Looking back, the talents, abilities, time and treasure donated by a multitude of volunteers was awe inspiring and helped to educate a good percentage of people in our area, who reached out to start pregnancy care centers, the largest number in any area. The seeds planted in Cincinnati in these years resulted in it being one of the strongest pro-life cities today.