“My income is going up every year because I’m giving money away.”

Ken BeckerFor the most part, Ken Becker (’49 BS BUS) has good luck fishing off the end of his Lake Wisconsin dock. He has caught 15 different kinds of fish this year, mostly walleye and bass. Adding the muskie his friend caught makes 16.

What makes the 89-year-old retired savings and loan executive feel even better is knowing that while he’s pursuing his favorite pastime, he’s also making money and supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The university is benefiting, and I’m tremendously benefiting,” Becker said. “My income is going up every year because I’m giving money away. I can’t think of a better way to say thank you to the university.”

The dual benefit comes from a series of charitable gift annuities Becker has set up with the University of Wisconsin Foundation. In 2003 he established his first gift annuity and has created additional gift annuities almost annually since then.

A charitable gift annuity is a contract. In return for a gift of cash or stock, the UW Foundation will pay a specified annuity for as long as the beneficiary(ies) live. This has many advantages:

  • Fixed income payments for your lifetime and/or the lifetime of another beneficiary you name.
  • A charitable tax deduction.
  • Future support for the UW-Madison.

A dedicated Badger, Becker is a lifelong fan of the UW-Madison but had little hope of enrolling as the youngest child of what he calls “one of the poorest families in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin.” His dad had a grade school education; his mom attended high school, and Becker began his post-high school education with a year at vocational school. His older sister stepped in and found her little brother a job in Evanston, Illinois, where he enrolled at Northwestern University.

A year later, however, Becker joined the military, spending three years in Italy as a B-17 navigator during World War II. “I saved every penny I could,” he said. His checks, including extra combat, overseas and officer’s pay, went into his college savings account. What did he live on? Soldiers received a pack of cigarettes a day, and since he didn’t smoke, Becker would sell them for $18 or $20 a carton. Besides, he says, there wasn’t much to buy. “We lived in tents in the field. There was no place to spend any money.”

Returning to the United States, he took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled in the UW-Madison, “which was my love.” Becker appreciates that the university took him in when he got out of the service and gave him the opportunity to combine his interest in engineering with business. He earned his degree in Business Construction Administration.

Becker’s 35-year career in the savings and loan industry began by accident. “Jobs were not too plentiful,” he remembered. “I was going to go to a Barrington (Illinois) lumberyard, but the guy who interviewed me said there’s a new savings and loan opening … that’s how I started in the savings and loan business.” Ten years later, Becker was the first employee at the new Mundelein (Illinois) Savings and Loan, where he eventually became president and chairman of the board. The Bank of Mundelein was born when Becker convinced the S&L board that it also needed a bank to offer checking accounts, safety deposit boxes, drive-up service and small loans.

Even living in Illinois, Becker said he remained a staunch Green Bay Packers and Badger fan, and he’s been a Wisconsin Alumni Association member since the early 1950s. He made small gifts over the years—“but not these annuities because I wasn’t familiar with them.”

Now, he’s dedicated to establishing charitable gift annuities for the UW-Madison. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to do this,” he said, adding he lives a simple life that allows him to make gifts. “It makes me feel good. January 1, I’m going to do it again.”