A Legacy of Love

08/26/2016 .
Dean Straka  .  Storytelling Intern

Leaving a legacy doesn’t require massive wealth and resources. But it does require passion and dedication. Horace Willard left a legacy of passion for helping others and dedication to connecting them with Jesus. Horace’s legacy has helped transform Saddleback Church into the place of hope that it is today.

Born in Oklahoma, Horace moved to the Northern California town of Gilroy with his family when the infamous Dust Bowl ravaged the Southern Plains in the 1930s. Horace would meet his wife Millie in Gilroy and eventually became a house designer in the Santa Clara Valley.  It was Millie who helped lead Horace to his faith in Jesus Christ. When Horace was 29 years old, Millie, who was already a Christian, took Horace to the church she was attending, and the message that Sunday had a powerful impact on him.

“The minister was seemingly fixated on Horace during the service and the message resonated with him so deeply that he accepted Christ right then and there. From that point in his life, he was fully dedicated to God,” said Horace’s grandson Chris.

Horace became heavily involved in outreach for the rest of his life. According to his grandson Jon, Horace would drive hours after work certain days just so he could meet with people in order to share The Gospel.

“He made such an impact in people’s lives. They adored his company,” Jon said.

In 1984, Horace and his wife moved to Orange County for retirement. The couple discovered Saddleback Church. Horace immediately became involved with the young, small church. He grew close to Pastor Rick and began serving in several ministries. Horace was one of the first recipients of Saddleback’s Giant Killer Award for outstanding leadership by a volunteer.

“He had an incredibly authentic approach. He knew how to have a friendly conversation with literally anyone. Their ears would spark,” Chris said.

Horace’s friendly and inviting personality would help attract one of Saddleback’s most influential leaders in 1987. That year, Horace reached out to a worship leader who had been touring and was looking for a permanent home church to join. Horace recommended that Rick Muchow connect with Pastor Rick, and he was soon brought onto the staff as Saddleback’s Worship Pastor.

Several years later, Horace took another big step in faith, writing and publishing his own book: The Layman who Brags on Jesus. Forwarded by Pastor Rick, the book is both a testimony of Horace’s life and a resource to those looking to take their ministry work to the next level.

“Horace is one of the most joyful Christians I have ever known, The reason? He is constantly sharing his faith in Christ with others,” Pastor Rick said in the forward.

In 2009, Horace moved to an assisted living facility, but his age did not stop him from trying to help others.

“A few years back Horace called me to tell me that he had led a 102 year old woman to Christ. That’s what stood out about him - his passion to bring people to the lord and never giving up on them,” said Vicki D’Amato, a close friend of the Willard family.

On July 21, 2016, Horace passed away at the age of 95. Just moments before his passing, Rick Muchow had stood by his side singing “Amazing Grace.” Horace’s legacy lives on within the Saddleback community. “He was a mentor who inspired many. He taught us all to live our lives for God.” said Vicki D’Amato, a close friend of the Willard family.

Even in his final days, Horace maintained a positive attitude and would even share about his hope in Jesus to the nurses caring for him at the hospital.

“When he was in the hospital during the last few days before he died, he would always ask the nurses with a smile on his face if they knew Jesus Christ,” Jon said. “He was always saying ‘I’m happier than ever.’ I will always remember him for his work ethic and determination.”

Chris said he couldn’t be more thankful to be able to call Horace his grandfather. “He was the ultimate example of what a grandfather should be. He was a role model to all and lived for God in all that he did,” Chris said.

Horace demonstrated a selfless lifestyle focused on the well-being of others. Without Horace’s faithfulness to ministry and outreach, hundreds of people would have missed out on finding true hope and purpose in Jesus.

If you'd like to learn how you can get more involved serving others at Saddleback Church, click HERE to find the times and locations for the next Class 301 where you'll learn how to use your unique talents and abilities to help others and bring glory to God.

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