A changed itinerary: Diane Endres Ballweg sets her own flight plan
She was a woman in a man’s world at a time when women weren’t expected to do or accomplish many things outside the home, much less run companies. Diane Endres Ballweg, 60, from the Endres Manufacturing family in Waunakee, didn’t know any differently. With the family homestead located just three doors away from the family business, she and her mother worked in the company’s office.
“I was the runaround girl who did the deliveries and billing, but I felt like I kept getting pushed down the track,” Endres Ballweg acknowledged. The notion that she might one day run the family manufacturing business was simply not discussed.
She married young, to Ken Ballweg, an employee at the company (and its current CEO), in 1974. Their marriage lasted just over 30 years and produced three children (son Sam is now president at Endres). Diane, meanwhile, graduated from Edgewood College in 1975 with a degree in special education and a minor in math.
Always an avid learner, Endres Ballweg is proud of the fact that she earned three degrees while raising her kids. An accomplished musician (she plays piano, organ, flute, and guitar), she was a music instructor for the bulk of her career and taught piano lessons out of a home studio while balancing her roles as wife and mother. She later returned to school to earn official credentials and graduated from UW-Madison in 1985 with a music education degree. In 2007, she added a master’s degree in education administration from Edgewood College.
One day, as her youngest headed off to college, Endres Ballweg decided it was time to follow the mantra she’d long been reciting to her students – never stop learning – so she took a test flight at Morey Airport in Middleton. Two years later, she became a licensed pilot.
Endres Ballweg found a freedom in the air unlike anything she’d ever experienced. She’s owned her own plane for about 12 years now and will often rent planes on destination trips. She’s visited all seven continents and flown down to the Florida Keys, to Nova Scotia, and over mountains and volcanoes in Australia and New Zealand. She’s circled the summit of Japan’s Mount Fuji and retraced the path of Japanese fighter pilots on their approach to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
But one of her most memorable trips was a two-week trek through Africa with her teenage daughter, flying from one remote, overgrown airstrip to another, guided only by latitude and longitude. In 2000, she started an aviation class at Edgewood High School and has been teaching the course ever since.
By 2007, her first bucket list had been completely satisfied. Bucket list number two includes writing a book and traveling to Alaska.
Closer to home, Endres Ballweg now plays an active role in her family’s 87-year-old steel fabrication business. As a board member and owner, she stays engaged in strategic planning and client relations and visits construction sites as necessary. Some men, she said, still roll their eyes when they see a woman approaching the sites.
“After a while, I let them know I’ve crawled in this stuff since I was a baby,” she laughed.
But her most cherished and important role is and has been that of benefactor. As president of the Endres Manufacturing Co. (EMC) Foundation, Endres Ballweg helps direct $75,000 to nonprofits each year. She is also involved with 20 different boards and organizations around Madison, and she and Ken were lead donors to The Stream, Edgewood College’s stunning new visual and theater arts center.
Involved with Porchlight for the past 25 years, Endres Ballweg chaired the Safe House housing project campaign, and its recent grand opening brought a particular sense of pride. “Forty-eight people have new homes now,” she said.
She’s a very active Madison Children’s Museum board member and also sits on the National Committee of the Performing Arts in support of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“People will reprimand me,” she said. “‘You need to say no,’ they say. But it’s hard for me to say no because saying yes has always opened so many opportunities and taught me so many things!” She is driven by a favorite Einstein quote, which she paraphrases as, “Try not to become a person of success, try to become a person of value.”
“Some people just measure their life by how much they’re making,” she noted. “If you’re not giving back, what good is it?”
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