It’s not very often you meet a person with such a clear and inspiring vision as Bill Kizer. But, few too many professionals in our industry know his full story. I am writing this blog post to tell you about a wellness pioneer, the founder of WELCOA, and one of my most profound inspirations.
It was August 24, 2013–exactly 4 years ago today—that I had the privilege of meeting Bill Kizer. I was in Omaha for the first time, and Bill was sitting next to me at a board room table. I was interviewing with the Board of Directors to be the next CEO of WELCOA, a company Bill founded almost 30 years ago. It was a humbling experience and one that I will never forget. It is the day my WELCOA journey began. Since that important day I have not only had the opportunity to get to know Bill and his amazing friends and family, but I have had the chance to meet thousands of people across the globe whose lives have been improved because of his dream. Bill dreamed of a workout lunch instead of a two-martini lunch, a place where cigarette smoke would never reach your desk and a place where the most popular bar was the salad bar. After being an insurance executive for many years, Bill knew it was time to make a move and turn his idea in to a reality.
Bill rallied the heads of major organizations in Omaha to support his efforts to improve the health of all working people in the community, and without any hesitation they followed. On June 23, 1981, Bill’s dream became a reality when he submitted a proposal to incorporate and found the first wellness council. This would be the first of its kind in the nation – this was the beginning of The Wellness Council of the Midlands (WELLCOM). In his original proposal, he laid out the definition of wellness, the purpose of the council and the plan to execute his goals. In the first section, he thoughtfully included a definition of wellness that he thought could be executed through the workplace—one that is as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago:
The Council defines wellness as an active process through which the individual becomes aware of and makes choices toward a more successful existence. These choices are greatly influenced by one’s own self concept and the parameters of one’s own culture and environment. Each individual develops a unique lifestyle which changes daily in the reflection of their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, occupation and spiritual dimensions.
Over the next several years WELLCOM continued to gain traction in Nebraska and even received national recognition and praise from President Reagan. In a personal letter to Bill dated October 3, 1981, President Reagan wrote:
“What you are doing in the Wellness Council responds to this Administration’s beliefs that private initiatives rather than government programs can be of great benefit to the nation in dealing with many social and community needs.”
WELLCOM continued to grow, and Bill knew that it was time to spread the movement beyond Omaha, and focus on the entire nation and create a national movement. On October 23, 1987 the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) was incorporated as a national non-profit with the same mission, but with a goal to improve the health and wellness of all working people everywhere. WELCOA has flourished over the years, and now has Members in all 50 states and 9 countries.
Since the founding days, both WELLCOM and WELCOA have collectively touched and improved the lives of thousands of organizations and millions of employees around the globe.
Today WELCOA and WELLCOM celebrate the life of an incredible visionary who refused to give up on employee wellness. WELCOA is here to ensure that Bill’s legacy and movement will not stop until all working people everywhere can show up every day and have the opportunity to live and be their best selves. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of such an important legacy.
In memory of William McBain Kizer, March 25, 1925 – August 20, 2017. In celebration of a life well lived and loved.
With love and gratitude,
Ryan Picarella, President