At the age of 86, Willy Goellner can still tell you all the ins and outs of Advanced Machine and Engineering, which he started more than 50 years ago.
“What should I do at home? I’d rather go to work,” laughed Willy, founder and chairman of AME.
AME designs and builds machines and machine components. Since opening, AME has gone global and is now getting ready to expand, a move that will ultimately transform the company’s current parking lot into a 30 thousand square foot area.
You could say that Willy is now living the American Dream after surviving a nightmare. As a teen, Willy was forced from his home in what was then Poland, post World War II. In the years that followed, he lost his three-year-old sister and a grandmother, and lived in east Germany before fleeing to a British zone. He eventually immigrated to the US in 1958.
“It was not always easy,” explained Willy. “You have to fight a lot of resistance in your life.”
That fight led to Willy found AME in Rockford in 1966 and he hasn’t looked back since; that’s precisely the problem for daughter, Marika.
“My dad would share bits and pieces of his life, but I never got the whole story,” said Marika.
Marika, like Willy’s three other children, works side by side with her dad. Despite constant contact, Marika says she wanted to know more about the man behind the machine.
“In 1996, I asked him to start writing the story of his life and he said ‘ah, who’s gonna want to read this’ and I said, ‘I think a lot of people will,’.”
It took more than 20 years to complete his book, Against all Odds: From There to Here, which he finally published this past Fall.
Marika says the timing allowed for one last addition.
“My dad wanted to add another chapter about the woman behind the man and that is really personal and special to our whole family,” said Marika.
“She was a very lovely girl,” Willy said about his wife. “[We] had a very happy life together.”
Willy married Irmgard in 1955, and buried her last year, after she lost her battle with ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease). For Willy, his book is now a way raise money for research on the deadly disease. For Marika, it’s a guide into the family’s next chapter that includes the exciting expansion.
“Any hopeless situation can be overcome by God’s help, and his guidance, and his grace,” Marika said.
Willy’s book is available online through retailers like Amazon. Everyone is encouraged to also donate to the ALS Association Greater Chicago Chapter. Click here for a link to that site to donate.