Executive Director’s Message: Remembering Kurt Wellman

By Janlee Wong, NASWCA Executive Director

Kurt Wellman passed away late last year and when the NASW-CA family learned of his passing, many of us were deeply saddened. I first met Kurt as a very energetic BSW student at San Diego State University (SDSU). You couldn’t miss Kurt. He was an older student who wore sunglasses and a porkpie hat.

His activism and zeal were infectious and he was a man on a mission—a mission of social work.  Kurt was a natural leader and NASW leadership was a good fit for him. He joined the Board as a Student Director and later as Region E Director.  He kept our Board meetings lively and challenged us in the activist spirit.

Kurt did something when a crime wave of assaults against women in the City Heights neighborhood.  He organized community meetings to address the anxiety and fear in the community and to work collaborative with law enforcement.

Kurt invited NASW’s new CEO Angelo McCain to come and speak at SDSU and invited him to meet with students after his speech.  Kurt was a force at Lobby Days and was one of the founding members of the highly successful “Social Work at Petco Park” annual baseball event that combined recognition of social work in a major public venue and appreciation to the social workers of San Diego and outlying areas including Orange County and Los Angeles.

Kurt Wellman is second from right. Petco Park, 2014

Kurt also did something that is the true measure of a professional social worker.  He shared his own struggle with addiction and his efforts to overcome this deadly disease. We teach social workers that in order to help others, you must know yourself.  In doing so, you become aware of your own healing process which is invaluable in helping others help themselves.

With the encouragement of NASW leaders like Cyndy and Glenn Thomas, Kurt wrote “Making Skeletons Dance,” a story of resilience from addiction and incarceration to strength and resolve.  The volume is available on Amazon and it’s well worth reading.

I am fortunate to have met, worked with and known Kurt. I’ll miss him, but the memory of his struggle and determination is social work’s eternal story. Thank you, Kurt.

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