Scholarship support follows an exceptional career both in and outside industry
Willich, a graduate in the class of 1960 with a degree in aeronautical engineering, said a strong work ethic and a high morale will always set Purdue graduates apart.
“You don’t really think about it when you go through the process, but what I took from lectures made me want to go after every possible opportunity,” Willich says. “You have to want to find what you’re looking for. Forty years down the line I’ve gotten all of that and my education at Purdue was a big part in achieving that.”
Willich says that he was always destined to be a Boilermaker.
He grew up on the south side of Chicago, and followed his uncle to Purdue, who attended for one semester on the GI bill after serving in World War II. After attending Purdue Calumet for his first two years, Willich came to West Lafayette in 1958 where he completed his degree.
Soon after graduating, he took a job with Boeing where he worked on Boeing’s SST projects, NASA research programs, and eventually became marketing director for the 737, a job he describes as the easiest in the world because of the plane’s popularity.
By 1970 he sought a new direction and left Boeing to enter the medical research field, working on equipment to remove fluid from the lungs, a development, he says was ahead of its time.
Willich soon returned to Boeing, though, due to greater financial rewards on offer, but cites his capability and willingness to step outside of the box, something he learnt from his Purdue years, as a career defining move.
“I had accomplished all of my wildest dreams four years out of college, but by then I was in a little bit of difficulty,” he says. “I used the time to test the waters and take some different advice—it was a little mind-sapping—but a year later I did the medical research project. When it was time to go back to Boeing I did so with a different outlook, one that worked for me on the corporate side of the company.”
Retiring from Boeing in 1996 at age 57, Willich says that many people might be content to play golf and enjoy the quiet life. Not him.
While still involved with medical research, Willich sought political office and in 2007 was elected mayor of Sun Valley, Idaho, a ski resort town of 1,500 people.
Willich says he likes to visit West Lafayette at least once a year to attend a football game and is a regular and enthusiastic supporter of the university.
He recently agreed to donate $25,000 to the Trustees and Presidential scholarships being awarded to AAE students. He says that, unlike some donors looking for publicity, he believes in helping talented students follow their dreams.
“It’s not necessarily the dollar amount, but having someone there wanting you to do well,” Willich says. “If I can help in any small way to help someone get an education, I will be happy with that.”
With the opportunities available for today’s engineering students to make a difference in the world, he has one wish: to be 40 years younger with the chance to follow his dreams once again.