Ken Tate came back from the Korean War with memories that have lasted a lifetime. He was told “don’t worry, you’ll never see combat.” His first job was counting 500-pound bombs being loaded into airplanes – with the fuses already in them. One night, while stacking 50 caliber rounds, a shot from a nearby mountain came so close Ken heard the bullet whiz by his ear.Ken was responsible for the arming wires on Mk-17 Hydrogen Bombs. These were the Air Force’s first operational hydrogen bombs and they were huge; 24 feet long, 5 feet in diameter, 21 tons. Pilots reported zooming upwards hundreds of feet when they dropped it on test runs because the plane was so much lighter suddenly. More than once Ken found that the arming wires on these bombs were done wrong. Later he was ordered to help discard a hundred of the bomb shells in the ocean.
Ken returned home and met Paula through his brother at a Sunday afternoon picnic. He then pestered his brother “for a date with the blond from the picnic” until he got it. But Ken had already re-enlisted in the Air Force. He was sent to England for three years. He and Paula exchanged letters the whole time and they were finally married when he returned in 1959.
They bought a home in Arden Hills the next year. Paula says there were only two house styles on the block because the neighborhood was built really fast for WWII vets returning home. The green wood used by the builders shrank and left small cracks in the floors.
Ken drove a cab and then went to work in a corrugated box factory. He and Paula raised two sons and two daughters in their home. When it got cramped, Ken bought a carpentry book and—with help from his extended family—raised the roof on the backside of the home and added bedrooms for the kids.
The project sparked something in Ken. When he retired in 1996, Ken asked a friend from church how to get involved with Habitat for Humanity.
“I just wanted to do something where I wasn’t going to lose my mind or lose my body,” says Ken. Two months later a woman named Lynda began as an AmeriCorps Member at Habitat. Ken and Lynda have been closely linked ever since.
Ken was first part of a crew of regular volunteers called Plug and Chug. He was volunteering once a week until he decided the home they were building wasn’t going to get done before the snow, so he started volunteering twice a week.
Ken became a part of the North Central Regular Crew which Lynda (who got hired on as a permanent Site Supervisor) was in charge of. It’s a close knit and dedicated group of volunteers, who adore working with Lynda. They joked with her to not look down while she was working on a roof pregnant during her second year as a Site Supervisor. “My water actually broke on the roof later,” says Lynda.
Ken has lost count, but he estimates he’s worked on more than 200 Habitat homes. Ken and Paula had a mobile home they’d take south in the winters and Ken always brought his commitment to volunteerism with him. He helped build Habitat homes in Phoenix, San Antonio, Waco, and Gulfport. He’s done it all on site and appreciates even the hardest task. Ken jokes, “The second worst job is mudding sheetrock. The worst is sanding the sheetrock I mudded.”
Although the North Central Regulars were hard workers, Lynda felt the days often started out kind of chaotic. “To get us grounded, I decided we’d all gather and start each day with a story that someone would be responsible for sharing. We took turns for a bit, but then it kind of became Ken’s permanent job.”
“She didn’t always like the stories I picked,” says Ken with a devilish smile.
Ken was forced to retire from site in 2016. But he kept in touch with the crew and with Lynda. He began volunteering to visit and help hospice patients. He told his last patient he may not be strong enough to come back for their next visit and the man walked him slowly to the elevator.
Doctors told Ken his heart is failing him. He could opt for surgery and then would be in a nursing home forever or he could enter hospice himself in his own home. Ken chose the home he and Paula have lived in and loved since 1960. She still gardens and he still sees the minor imperfections that could use his handy skills.
Ken is a man of deep Christian faith and it brings him great joy to share it. A picture of Jesus by the sea with his disciples hangs in their living room. “He’s telling ‘Hey guys you’ve been fishing from the wrong side of the boat,’” says Ken.
The picture hangs above a framed certificate honoring Ken’s 20 years of volunteerism in support of Twin Cities Habitat’s mission. Inside the frame are photos and signatures from his volunteer crewmates. A gold painted drywall knife that declares “Ken Tate Master Mudder” stands as a mini monument in recognition of the hundreds of families who’ve benefited from Ken’s giving.
If Heaven is to be built on Earth, it will be done by people like Ken.