The American Lung Association was founded by volunteers and volunteers are still a vibrant, energizing force in our organization. From our advocates, LUNG FORCE Heroes and event volunteers to our community health education facilitators and our board members at the local and national level, our mission and impact are driven by dedicated and generous volunteers.
Each year, we recognize the excellence of our nationwide volunteers, and the highest honor we bestow is the Will Ross Medal. The award was established in 1952 in honor of Will Ross, a Wisconsin industrialist, former tuberculosis patient and one of the American Lung Association’s most dedicated volunteers who served as the first non-medical president of the Association.
Earlier this year, long-time Lung Association volunteer and former Illinois State Legislator William "Bill" Kempiners joined the prestigious ranks of Will Ross Medal recipients. As a four-term Illinois state legislator, the director of public health for the state of Illinois, and the executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, Kempiners brought tremendous experience to the Lung Association. Throughout his many years of dedicated service, including as chair of the Advocacy Committee, Bill helped lay the groundwork for the strength and success of the Lung Association advocacy program we see today, and his leadership led to many significant policy advances that have benefited millions of Americans.
During his tenure as Advocacy Committee chair, Advocacy Day greatly expanded and his vision laid the groundwork for the successful 50-state, 150-participant LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day in 2017. Among his many landmark achievements, he engaged a wide variety of experts in a comprehensive review of energy topics related to electricity, transportation and heating that resulted in the American Lung Association's first comprehensive Public Policy Position on Energy.
We spoke with Bill and asked him to reflect on his many impactful years of voluntary service.
Q: What first drew you to the American Lung Association?
A: Having served as Illinois Director of Public Health for from 1979-1984, I was an ex-officio member of the local Lung Association board and did attend some meetings. When I moved to Springfield in 1989 to become executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association, Harold Wimmer, then the local Lung Association executive (now National President & CEO), called me and asked if I would be interested in serving on the local advocacy committee. I agreed to do so, and I’m so glad I did! It was a perfect fit, because I was, and still am, deeply committed to public health.
Q: What is the volunteer experience with the Lung Association you are most proud of?
A: There are two of which I am particularly proud. First, while I was serving as vice chair of the Advocacy Committee and Art Cerullo was chair, he wanted to initiate a Washington Advocacy Day, while I wanted to expand our grassroots network of advocacy. Upon my becoming chairman, we worked on several ideas to do so, resulting in today's Save Our Lungs Team. The second one is the development over a one and half-year timeframe of a comprehensive Energy Public Policy Position, which was approved by the board of directors.
Q: How did your professional career help make you an effective Lung Association volunteer?
A: Having a background in politics, the state legislature and state government has been helpful to me and to the Lung Association in motivating people to become involved in advocacy and to work with people to obtain consensus on policy issues.
Q: You’ve been a volunteer for a long time. What keeps you coming back?
A: As much as we volunteers accomplish on behalf of lung health, I really benefit from the satisfaction I receive from being part of a worthwhile and successful organization. We make a real difference in people's lives, and that’s very gratifying.
Q: What are your feelings about receiving the Will Ross Medal?
A: I was both honored and humbled to receive the Will Ross Medal. During my volunteer activity, I met so many wonderful volunteers whom I believed should receive the award instead of me.
Q: What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering for the Lung Association?
A: Go for it! You'll not only be part of a dynamic organization which has great accomplishments to its credit but also get to know a number of amazing people.