Member Spotlight

Jay Tornquist—Willmar Electric


We are proud to feature Jay Tornquist of Willmar Electric. 2020 marks a monumental achievement for Willmar Electric, as the company celebrates its 100th year in business!

Jay grew up in Kerkhoven, home of the infamous Tom Freetly, a past Chair of the Board for the Electrical Association. Jay and his wife, Kathy, live in Willmar, where they have lived for 22 years. They are proud parents of Peter, Hannah, Abby and Nathan, and have five grandchildren.

Throughout his career, Jay has worked in several industries. Early on, he ran a fishing resort and managed a restaurant before joining his father and uncle in the real estate business. Together, they bought, restored, and sold apartment buildings around the Twin Cities. His career then shifted towards education. Jay has been a school principal, a third grade teacher, a youth director and an assistant coach in football, basketball, and baseball.
In 1997, Jay took the summer off, knowing that God had something different planned for him.  At the end of the summer, an Education Director position became available at Willmar Electric, which was a great fit for the work experiences he had accumulated over the years. Thankfully, they hired him and he has been blessed to work there ever since! Jay was nice enough to tell us a bit of his story...

I have a unique background and have a number of different work experiences, few of which relate directly to this position. However, the sum of all of them have helped prepare me for the past 23 years of service here at Willmar Electric. I started out as the Education Director, soon getting involved in the areas of safety and HR and was the director of each of these areas until a life-changing event happened five years ago.

At the end of 2015, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and began treatments immediately. Following my chemotherapy sessions, the doctors gave me the news that the chemotherapy was unsuccessful and that I had only two months to live. David Chapin, one of the owners of Willmar Electric, sent out a memo to all of the employees, asking for their support and prayers to help me during this time. Our immediate family notified all of our friends, relatives and everyone within our church communities. What happened over the next month was a miracle!

On the Monday morning following this news, when the doctor came in to give me a transfusion, for the first time my platelet levels had increased. The following day, they’d doubled. They proceeded to double for four straight days and by the end of the week, my platelet levels had returned to normal. All of the doctors and nurses were befuddled. They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I said, “I think I do!” They quickly changed my diagnosis.

Over the last five years, I haven’t so much as taken a single aspirin, and I have been incredibly blessed to remain cancer free! All of the support, thoughts and prayers of my coworkers and friends has been life changing and lifesaving. The Lord has answered and it has been an amazing journey!

The people I work with at Willmar Electric are truly amazing! When I first received my diagnosis, I had only a week left of paid vacation. Within one day of David sending out his memo, several coworkers had already chipped in to donate their PTO and I now had three MONTHS of paid time off! I remember David telling me, “that’s not three months to die; that’s three months to get well and come back to work. If it takes more, you’ve got more.” So that’s exactly what I did. I went home and I got well.

Willmar Electric’s purpose statement is People Making a Difference for People, and for the last five years, that’s exactly what they’ve done for me. Due to the fact that I still had what is known as chemo-fog or chemo-brain (this is cognitive impairment that can occur as the result of chemotherapy) I came back to work in a support role for the HR, education and safety directors. The owners and other managers at Willmar Electric worked hard to create a position that would maximize the knowledge and abilities I was still able to provide. It is very unique that I could be someone’s supervisor, such as Trista Selander, and then swap leadership roles with that person. She has been very understanding of my situation, and is now my supervisor and the current Director of Human Recourses.

As a longtime member, what do you value most about the Electrical Association? 
I have a hard time leaving the “Minnesota” out of the title although I understand the reasoning. The Electrical Association has provided us with quality training over many years and in a number of different areas. Whenever we have had a need for a certain class, they have worked hard to meet that need or to help me find someone that could provide training for us. Code classes have been a specialty, both for journeyman and for apprentices.

We have walked side by side with the association in a number of legislative cases, standing up for what is important for the members. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the association has always had quality leadership, striving to meet the needs of its members. Everyone I have worked with has been caring and concerned, not only for our business, but also for me personally. It has been a pleasure to walk side by side for all these years!

I will be retiring from full-time employment at the end of 2020, but staying on part time to help with the transition. Personally, I plan on staying active as I have a love for fishing, playing basketball, and working on small projects. Most importantly, I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with all of my family because truly, every day is a blessing!!

We were sad to announce in Jan 2021, our deepest sympathies to the family & friends of Jay Tornquist, 63, who died Nov 9. Jay was a loyal and beloved employee of Willmar Electric Service for the last 24 years.


Previous jobs included being a Youth Pastor at Kerkhoven Evangelical Free Church, coaching football at KMS high school, and teaching at Community Christian School in Willmar. He was active in his church, teaching Bible Instruction Class for years and was also on the elder board at Living Hope. Jay miraculously overcame leukemia in 2016. Since then, he has not only been cancer-free, but was determined to live every day to the fullest and for God’s glory.

When asked how he was doing, he would say, "Every day is a blessing!" He was a devoted and affectionate husband, the most loving and supportive father to his kids, a cherished grandfather, the solid rock of his family, a loyal friend, a wise teacher, and the best listener in the world. He had a special way of making every individual feel seen and welcome, and could give a positive perspective to any situation. He was so many things to so many people and will be deeply missed on this earth.