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In loving memory, Kenneth Paul Wackes, 1939–2018

Dr. Wackes was headmaster at Westminster Academy for 32 years and a leader in Christian school accreditation. His hymnbook ??Wacketi Mana?? (“Wackes Words”) from his time as a missionary is still in use in New Guinea.

By The Wackes Family April 2018

Kenneth Paul Wackes served as Executive Director of Christian Schools of Florida from 2005 to 2015. His wise leadership and deep knowledge of Florida’s requirements and legislation regarding Christian schools were influential and invaluable. When he could no longer perform his duties due to his health he was named Chief Executive Director.

Ken was born on March 27, 1939 in Philadelphia, PA, the first of five children born to Paul and Ruth Wackes. He grew up in a strong Christian home and was heard “preaching” John 3:16 at a very young age.

The family moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 1955, where Ken attended Ft. Lauderdale High School his senior year. Ken was gifted musically and excelled in trumpet, which led him to major in trumpet at Nyack College in Nyack, New York. In his sophomore year Ken met an organ major who transferred from The King’s College: Ruth Markle. Romance blossomed quickly and it was only four months until their engagement. They married before Ken’s senior year in the summer of 1960 in New City, New York.

Newlyweds Ken and Ruth were a musical team as choir director and organist at First Baptist Church in Tarrytown, New York. Ken graduated from Nyack in 1961 and Ruth presented him with a wonderful graduation gift — a son, Paul Charles.

Ken pursued his musical education at the Manhattan School of Music with a major in choral conducting. However, an invitation to provide special music for a mission’s conference completely changed his life’s direction. A missionary on furlough from New Guinea spoke of how people were turning to Christ in great numbers and told of the need for missionaries. Ken and Ruth both felt God’s spirit say, “Go!”

In 1964 Ken, Ruth and Paul left family and friends and travelled to the island of New Guinea (West Papua). For four years they made their home in Magode with the Kapaukus, a tribe living in the remote, rugged interior of the island. During this time their family expanded with the birth of two daughters — Karen Lynn (1965) and Linda Joy (1966).

At Magode Ken had the joy of teaching and training Kapauku pastors. God performed miracles in response to their faith, confirming the spoken Word. Ken collected, transcribed, and printed a hymnbook of worship chants. To this day the church refuses to revise Ken’s original ??Wacketi Mana?? (“Wackes Words”) hymnal. Ken was greatly loved by the Kapaukus.

While in New Guinea, Ken received a copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion from a pastor friend. Ken devoured this and other books and became convinced that Reformed theology made good Biblical sense. This led to a new, strong desire to attend seminary and go into pastoral ministry. While on furlough back home in Florida in 1968, God opened the way for Ken to attend Columbia Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia from 1969 to 1972. He and Ruth were again a music team at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Ken earned a M.Div. with honors and was awarded a full-tuition Fellowship to pursue a follow-on degree. Vanderbilt University had a major in Group Dynamics, so the family moved to Nashville, TN. Ken received a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) in 1973.

After graduation, “Dr. Wackes” moved the family back home again, excited about the prospect of planting a church in Plantation, Florida. When this failed to materialize, Ken took a job teaching Bible at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale. He only intended to be at WA one year, while waiting for a pastorate. After a couple of months at WA, Ken was asked to fill the position of headmaster and he replied, “No thanks, but I will take over until you find someone else.” However, after serving in the position for several months Ken realized that all his gifts were being fully used, so he accepted the headmaster position in 1973. He was also an associate pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where he taught large Sunday School classes, did a lot of counseling, and performed many wedding ceremonies. Ken was headmaster at Westminster Academy for 32 years, retiring in 2004.

Ken and Ruth then moved to their lake-front “property” in Crystal River so Ken could fill in for a history teacher on maternity leave at Seven Rivers Christian School… but he ended up teaching history there for nine years. He loved history, he loved teaching, and he especially loved the kids. This is the period when Ken also served as CSF’s Executive Director. These were wonderful years!

Ken had several symptoms of ALS two years before he was officially diagnosed in January 2014. As the disease progressed, Ken lost his ability to eat, speak, and walk. Confined to a motorized wheelchair, he needed a cough-assist 2–3 hours a day and was on a ventilator 24/7. As ALS progressed, Ken was left with only one finger to type. Yet he never complained. He often said: “I feel buckets of God’s grace pouring over me,” and was totally content.

Through it all, Ken enjoyed meditating on memorized Scripture, listening to Gaither music, editing his World History e-book, adding to his Trusting God with ALS blog, answering emails, working on Wackes genealogy, writing newsletters for Christian Schools of Florida, and connecting with Ruth, his full-time caregiver and “angel.” Ken’s eternal perspective was summarized by one beautiful line in their 2017 Wackes Gazette: “As for ourselves, life is filled with joy.”

Ken was married to Ruth for 57 years. She was his behind-the-scenes confidant, helpmeet, and prayer partner in all he did. She rejoices now that Ken is experiencing all he preached and taught, and is with Jesus, whom he loved and served faithfully for so many years.

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