Some people, it seems, are just born to teach, to help others realize their potential and to inspire them to reach for their dreams. Will Kalinke of Tomahawk is one of those people.
“I guess I’ve instinctively been an educator all my life,” says the 85-year-old, who has churned out more books in just the last few years than many authors do in a lifetime. It’s a sunny afternoon in early September and in the stately house he shares with a sweet, aged German shepherd and a younger friend whom he regards as another son, Will recounts his journey to becoming a published author.
“I’ve really been writing my whole life, you might say, since about age five,” he says. He could read and do math at that age, he recalls, and discovered that he had a way of explaining things so that the other kids in his one-room school, even the older ones, could understand them. “I found out in first grade that I was capable of helping other kids learn.”
That realization inspired him to pursue a career in education. “I grew up on a farm,” he recalls. “I went to a one-room rural school and later taught in one.” Will, who was raised in Marathon County, earned a degree in elementary education at the teachers college in Antigo, and then went on to study at UW-Stevens Point. After that, he served in a variety of positions in education, among them teacher, administrator, professor and advisor. Along the way, he and his wife, Connie, raised three sons. “This is where Connie and I wanted to retire,” he says.
But that wasn’t to be. Connie passed away and Will traveled, seeking refuge from his grief and talking to runaways, the disabled and the homeless he met on the streets.
In 1991, Will bought a motel in Florida. Under his ownership, the motel, which had previously served “snowbirds” seeking refuge from long northern winters, became a place for parolees to stay. It was here, as well as during his travels, that the seeds were planted for the novels Will would later write.
During the 15 years he owned the motel, many of Will’s clients shared their life stories with him, telling him of their experiences. From listening to his guests’ stories and from the stories of those he met during his travels, “I got a lot of feel for life on the street,” he says.
Then about six years ago, Will received a cancer diagnosis and that changed everything. He sold the motel and focused on writing books as much as he possibly could – just in case his time ran out. He wanted to make sure he left something behind for his family. One of his early books, Stone Boat Journey, is what Will describes as a “historical treatment of my family.” The book was published at the end of 2010.
“I wanted to make sure the family had it before I died,” Will says. But as fate would have it, “‘Just in case’ didn’t happen,” Will says. “I’m still alive. I kept going.”
Indeed he did. “Within three years, I did seven books,” he says. “They were all in my head.” He recalled the stories he had heard from people he met over the years, and he used these and his own experiences as the basis for his novels. “There’s a lot of my autobiography in my books,” he says. “It just kind of creeps in.”
He now has eight published books to his credit, and more are on the way. “The ninth book is in the publisher’s hands right now,” he says. “The tenth book is in the computer.” He expects that by the end of next year, he will have completed a total of 12 books. “I did the first seven in rapid succession,” he explains, adding that he often works on three, four or even five books at the same time.
Most, but not all, of Will’s books fall into the mystery genre. Encouraging older people to share their life stories with others is a cause that’s dear to Will’s heart. One of his books, Memorabilia and Memories Shared, was written as a guide for grandparents who want to create an account of their lives for their grandchildren, but aren’t sure how to go about it.
“That’s the best way for seniors to get started writing,” Will says. “All they have to do is think of the memories they want to pass on to their children and grandchildren. Write as they talk. The rest will spin off from there.”
Writing, he found, was cathartic after the death of his wife and he feels it’s a great way to ensure one’s well-being. “I think that it would help any senior, with any of their emotions, getting it out and sharing with someone else,” he says.
For Will, writing is also fun. Asked what he enjoys most about writing mysteries, he replies, “I think the fascination with what I consider to be the art of keeping people guessing. It’s just fun to see if I can get that suspense.”
Although he has long been retired from the field of education, Will is still teaching. Only now, he’s teaching by example, showing people that it’s never too late to follow a dream. “Life is filled with so many opportunities that are missed,” he says, and he hopes that he can inspire others to stop putting off their dreams of writing and take action.
“Don’t worry about whether you have any errors. It’s better to have done something than not to have done anything. Just don’t delay.”
For more information, log on to willkalinke.com.