Every Generation Has its Heroes

Bradley Mattes   |   February 02, 2023

Every generation can point to its pro-life heroes in the movement.

These are individuals who by God’s design engaged, motivated, and activated tens of thousands of grassroots pro-lifers to advance the cause for LIFE.

Here are two of my heroes from the early years of the pro-life movement.

As a senior in high school, class of 1975 (you do the math), I was in a persuasive speech class. Students were paired off and my partner chose the topic of capital punishment. I chose abortion.

Clueless as to where to begin, I looked for “right to life” in the phone book.

Mary Rose, the head of the Billings, Montana chapter, provided materials that would help me build a persuasive speech.

She supplied a slide projector, brochures, and a book called Handbook on Abortion. All were from Dr. Jack and Barbara Willke, names that were new to me. I also used the famous 1965 fetal images by Lennart Nilsson, displayed in a special Life Magazine insert.

Presentations were graded on how effectively we persuaded our fellow students to our point of view, so we took a poll of the class before and after our talks. Prior to my speech, polling showed the class was split 50/50 on abortion.

I showed slides depicting the beauty and wonder of fetal life, as well as images of abortion’s impact on its tiny victims. I also explained the negative impact abortion has on mothers – both physically and emotionally.

After my presentation the class was once again polled, and it was unanimous for life! Then and there I discovered that education was the foundation on which we build political and legislative victories in the battle for life.

God used that experience to draw me into the movement, where I learned more about Jack and Barbara Willke, a doctor/nurse team who traveled throughout America and around the world to impart a solid educational foundation on which the budding pro-life movement could advance the cause for life.

They were my mentors, but I never dreamed I’d spend decades working side by side with this pro-life dynamic duo at Life Issues Institute for 25-plus years.

I can’t begin to tally the number of people who, like me, became pro-life advocates because of Jack and Barbara Willke, mentioning their slides, brochures and Handbook on Abortion. Their materials circled the globe and have been translated into over 30 languages. The pair had audiences with American presidents, other world leaders and the Pope.

Jack and Barbara taught me to change with the times, essential advice as we entered the online digital world. I became the executive producer and host of a weekly half-hour TV program, Facing Life Head-On, which had a successful run for eight seasons. The program had access to over 150-million households, during which time we garnered three Emmy Awards and various other honors.

We all stand on Jack and Barbara’s shoulders.

In 2003, Jack handed me the baton of hosting our daily radio commentary, Life Issues. He began the program in 1985 under the name Pro-Life Perspectives, the same year the film Silent Scream was released.

With Jack’s encouragement, we changed with the times, transforming the program to a web-based system that enabled us to get breaking stories to radio stations throughout the nation within hours. Today Life Issues is aired on over 1,300 radio outlets, reaching over 18 million actual listeners every week. I added a half-hour special for airing every January 22, and others for noteworthy occurrences. This year we are expanding radio to a weekly half-hour program and podcast.

We stand on Jack’s shoulders.

Back in the 1970s, many people – both friends and foes of abortion – said it’s over, the Supreme Court has ruled. My response was, “We’ll never give up trying, because this is the gravest civil rights issue of our time.” The alternative was too horrific to imagine.

Jack and Barbara Willke’s legacy laid the foundation for future generations as a springboard to overturn Roe v. Wade. And we succeeded!

Now, in a post-Roe America we face challenges at every turn, persecuted by the most pro-abortion president in our nation’s history. As we face what sometimes feel like insurmountable challenges, I recall the lifelong example of this dynamic duo, and it gives me the courage and enthusiasm to carry on until all the babies are saved and their mothers and fathers are protected.

My persuasive speech, which I still have, earned an A- and opened the door to future decades of work committed to saving the babies.

Thank you Jack and Barbara.

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11 thoughts on “Every Generation Has its Heroes

  1. That’s so Great Bradley! Ivwish you had debated me! I would rather not have won my 1970 Debate with a sweet Christian Debater from a Catholic Girls School in Spokane. It was aired on our local radio station. When I asked The Lord to be my Saviour one of the first things my conscious pricked me about was to repent to The Lord for supporting abortion. That is just more proof to me that The Lord indeed is Living and operative and speaks to us that EVERY LIFE REALLY DOES MATTER!

  2. WOW! What a great STORY Brad!! THANKS SO MUCH for sharing this. May God use it to raise up a whole army of dedicated prolife advocates like … yourself !! I hear your program daily on WMHR in Syracuse, NY. GOD BLESS YOU FOR THE GOOD WORK YOU ARE DOING FOR HIM! Eph. 2:10

  3. Great story, Brad. I was propelled into the pro-life movement at the age of 16 by the Willkes’ famous slideshow shown at my church in rural SD. In the early 80s, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Willke at National Right to Life.

  4. In 1968 I was in the seminary, and I was invited to go to a motel to hear a talk by someone who I had never heard of; it was Jack & Barbara Wilkie, who made a presentation and showed slides of the pre-born child and the reality of abortion (which at the time I knew nothing about this issue). At that time abortion was still pretty much illegal in most of the states. I was absolutely blown away by both the slides of the developing pre-born child and the aborted pre-born children. I was determined then to do something about this issue. So, I joined a small group of interested people to begin the Rochester Right to Life Committee, which was one of the first pro-life groups in the country. I was also on the speakers’ bureau, giving talks to many groups in our area because I too believe that education is key. We were also concerned about the difficult situations that vulnerable women with crisis pregnancies were facing. So, we also started one of the first Birthrights in the country. Then beginning in 1996, I directed Project Rachel for 18 years, All of this and much more because of Jack & Barbara Wilkie. Thanks be to God!

  5. Brad, thank you for sharing the story behind your involvement with Life Issues Institute and thank you for carrying the torch forward for the Wilkes.

  6. Thank you Brad. History and story matter as we educate others. The building blocks continue to grow even taller.

  7. Thanks for remembering the Willke’s for us. I had the pleasure of working with them and you on the Board of Directors of Life Issues Institute. Jack’s convictions and passion for both the unborn child and the mother was inspirational. The Willke’s legacy lives on through your work, Brad. God bless you and Life Issues ofr all that you do.

  8. I was blessed to have been a member of the church in California that a young Bradley Mattes and family joined. I thank you Brad for your educating many of us there on the Willke’s work and inspiring us to get evolved with the Pro-Life movement. A movement that I am still very passionate about. When you stand before our Lord I know He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” God bless you

  9. Another heroine of mine with Dr. Mildred Jefferson! What a lovely, articulate, professional, wonderful person she was!

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