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Toy Story

Toy Story

A Chicago Tragedy Brings Life and Purpose
  • Linda Piepenbrink

The fun and games stopped on July 28, 1976, when toy designer Wayne Kuna climbed the stairwell of Marvin Glass & Associates to attend a meeting. His hand was on the door when he heard Pop! Pop!, like Bicentennial fireworks. Then a coworker’s voice—“Oh, my God! He’s got a real gun!” Wayne froze as more shots rang out. Then silence.

“I opened the door and it was pretty terrible,” he recalls. The gunman, a friend and fellow designer, lay dying on the floor, having shot five employees, killing three, and turning the gun on himself. And the coworker who had cried out about the real gun? Her last words had saved Wayne’s life.

All of this happened across the street from Moody at Marvin Glass & Associates, a nationally known toy design company. The bunker-like building on LaSalle Blvd. was the birthplace of Lite Brite and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots, among others. Wayne had been there three years, working on Evel Knievel stunt toys and a plastic version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Now the irony. The company meticulously guarded its trade secrets (like the super-secret recipe for Fake Vomit) in a maze of locked doors and a massive vault. But nothing could protect the employees from their coworker’s gun.

As ambulances lined up and bodies were carried out of the building, Moody students gathered across the street and did what Moody students do—pray.

Until then Wayne had had no contact with anyone from Moody, but their prayers would have a profound impact on the toy company.

Shortly after the shooting, Ralph Kulesza, one of the designers, had a dramatic conversion. Wayne recalls being amazed by the proud alcoholic’s instant spiritual transformation. Ralph talked openly about the forgiveness and healing found in Jesus Christ. But when Ralph came into Wayne’s office and shared his “good news,” Wayne had heard enough. He grabbed Ralph by the shoulders, spun him around, and pushed him out the door.

Back then, his general attitude was “eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow you won’t be here.” That meant long liquid lunches with his friend, the shooter, who was “getting progressively aggressive, but I just couldn’t believe that someone who was a friend would contemplate killing me,” says Wayne. “I self-medicated with a compulsive thought life and drinking too much at parties.”

Despite introducing several successful toys at a national toy fair, he carried his workplace stress into his home life. “Obsessively thinking about my projects, my growing anger and fears, and myriad other things kept me awake nights,” he says. After a five-day period without sleep, he was afraid he would snap, losing any idea of who he was as he grappled with the pain and horror of the shooting.

Wayne sat on his couch and thought about Ralph’s recent testimony. “I began to tell Jesus that He had no argument from me; I was definitely a sinner and I needed a Savior,” Wayne says. As he confessed his sins and fears, a growing sense of God’s holiness caused him to drop to his knees, then to fall face down on the floor. Panicking, he couldn’t stop thinking about God’s holiness. But then the love of Jesus began to fill the room. “I knew He was there,” Wayne recalls, and “something like a crushing boulder was rolled off of my body. . . . Something new had begun within me.”

Wayne returned to work, started listening to Moody Radio, and began Bible classes at Moody’s Evening School. He was amazed by the number of people he met at Moody who’d been praying for the toy company across the street. His spiritual life took huge leaps forward, and soon his wife, children, and mother became believers.

Suddenly life was good again—including an invitation to become a company partner. But that led to predictable questions when the managing partner called Wayne into his office. “I heard that you became religious. What’s it going to mean?”

Wayne wasn’t sure what to say. The toy company’s work culture was famously “fun and games,” starting with the founder’s bachelor pad and a featured spread in Playboy magazine. Wayne hadn’t thought about the consequences of his newfound faith. What would change? “That question had a huge impact on my life,” Wayne says. “It just made me realize that faith goes everywhere, and how important it was to be a leader of a workplace who is a follower of Christ.”

One day Dr. George Sweeting invited the company partners to lunch at Moody. “He’s reaching out to businesses and wants to be a good neighbor,” the managing partner told Wayne. None of Wayne’s partners made any mention of faith, let alone of Jesus. But by the time the lunch was over, the partners had agreed to show Dr. Sweeting’s collection of Moody Institute of Science films to their employees.

Remarkably, a Bible study began because of that film series. “Over the next ten years, at least one employee a year gave their life to Christ,” Wayne says.

Wayne was talking to his accountant about Jesus at a restaurant one day when a well-dressed man walked over and said, “I really appreciate when I hear businessmen discussing spiritual things.” It was Dr. Joe Stowell, Moody’s new president. Soon Wayne and his partners invited him to lunch at the toy studio. “He just charmed them out of their socks,” Wayne recalls. The great relationship with Moody continued.

When Marvin Glass & Associates dissolved in 1988, Wayne launched his own toy company with Ralph and his son. They gave a percentage of the proceeds to the Lord, and the company thrived for 11 years, riding a wave of success. But the startup was tough! For over a year they didn’t make any money, which caught the attention of a toy designer who’d been paralyzed in the shooting spree. He joined Wayne and Ralph for lunch one day and said, “I’ve been watching you for thirteen months; you haven’t made a penny, and you guys are still full of joy. I’m not saying I’m going to become a Christian, but I think it’s got something to do with Jesus. So tell me everything I need to know.”

Wayne marveled at how God was using their circumstances for His purposes. “All we were worried about was our company is going out of business, and God is saying, No, no, no, that man needs to know My Son.” And eventually that man did receive Christ.

When Wayne closed his company in 1999, he realized that his work of serving God in the toy industry was complete. “He wanted me to go somewhere else to serve Him.” Although it didn’t remove the sting from losing the company he loved, he says, “It redirected a lot of the emotional energy to trusting God and actually thanking God for what He had given me for the last decade.”

Soon Wayne’s life intersected with Moody again. His wife suggested he attend Moody for an MA in Biblical Studies, so he did, even serving as the men’s chaplain for a year. “I loved it!” he says. “We had such an amazing group of students and they were so inspiring.”

His 2001 graduation came just a few months before the 9-11 attacks. Wayne ministered with the Billy Graham Association at Ground Zero in New York. He became senior pastor of a suburban Chicago church, then God opened the door for him to serve as an adjunct professor at Moody. He taught a Christian discipleship course on Spiritual Life and Community and loved the students. “It was a joy,” he says.

In 2012, Wayne joined the Navigators and launched Soul Priority, a workplace ministry that trains men and women to think about work as calling, and to lead with God’s eternal principles. Small groups meet in coffee shops, corporate offices, and cafeterias, using Wayne’s Work in the Light curriculum (Covenant Books), which he developed by combining his business experience with his Moody training. “I love discipling people and discussing God’s Word, and I love making it practical for them so that they take it to work that day.”

Wayne says he marvels at the role professors and countless Moody students have played in shaping and fortifying his faith.

“Much of my adult life has swung on Moody hinges,” he explains. “I can’t imagine what my life would have missed had Moody not been part of my life.”

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni & Friends and senior editor for Moody’s Marketing Communications department.