St. Louis – The late Robert O. Kortkamp was named the first recipient of an award bearing his name at the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) Education Fund’s first Robert O. Kortkamp Humanitarian Awards luncheon February 28 at Christy’s Banquet Center in south St. Louis.
About 70 people, making up a who’s who of labor, political and community leaders turned out to honor the life and work of the late labor leader including former Senator Jean Carnahan, who served as the honorary chairperson for the event, Michael Kelley, president of the Kelley Group, who served as master of ceremonies, and St. Louis Labor Council President Bob Soutier, who accepted the award in Kortkamp’s honor.
“I’m accepting this award on behalf of Bob’s two families – his actual family, the one he left behind on the day of his passing, and his adopted family – the labor movement,” Soutier said. “Bob was a swell guy. We miss him dearly.”
Kortkamp died on Jan. 20, 2011. He was 82.
A former business representative for Machinists, District 9, Kortkamp served as secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO, for 17 years before retiring in 1995 and serving as a volunteer within the Greater St. Louis Labor Council. That volunteer work quickly evolved to include retiree issues, said Earline Jones, president of the Missouri ARA Education Fund.
“Bob’s leadership and service to the community, labor and civic organizations was legend,” Jones said “Our goal is to harness Bob’s lifelong commitment and passion for others to this award in an effort to preserve his legacy.”
Kortkamp founded the Missouri ARA, becoming its first president and regional board member, Jones said. In 2010, he provided the leadership to start the Missouri ARA Education Fund, a statewide network of affiliated unions and community-based retiree organizations that today represents more than 67,000 members.
Kortkamp served as a labor liaison with the United Way before becoming an executive board member and co-chairman of the Advance Campaign, United Way of Greater St. Louis.
Through the years, he served on many boards of directors of social agencies, including Mary Ryder Homes Inc., the St. Louis Private Industry Council, Catholic Charities of St. Louis, Blue Cross Corporate Assembly, the St. Louis Bi-State Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Economic Planning Committee of St. Louis, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the Epilepsy Foundation of St. Louis and a variety of other community organizations and commissions.
Gary Dollar, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis said Kortkamp found his greatest satisfaction in helping others.
“Bob Kortkamp left a tremendous legacy of service to his community,” Dollar said
“The Bob Kortkamp I knew took more satisfaction out of a family in need of a meal getting food, or an unemployed individual getting a good paying job with benefits, or a senior finding help to stay in his or her home, or a worker getting decent treatment from an employer than he ever did out of what the rest of the world might see as his notable achievements.
“He was just as comfortable with the man or woman on the line or the person who lived on the streets,” Dollar said. “Your stature meant nothing to Bob. He judged you on the type of human being you are and how you cared for people in need.”
A DRIVING FORCE
Bob Kearney, deputy director of field mobilization for the Alliance for Retired Americans said Kortkamp was an icon in the ARA.
“When you met with the Missouri Alliance for Retired Americans, you met with Bob,” Kearney said. “He really was the driving force.
“Literally, until a few days before he passed away, he was still out speaking at events getting the word out that seniors were benefiting from the healthcare reform law that had been passed, that Social Security benefits were secure and it did not need to be handed over the Wall Street, that Medicare benefits were secure and did not need to be turned over to some voucher program. He was passionate about it all the way up the last days of his life.”
Dave Meinell, president of the Missouri ARA and a longtime friend and protégé of Kortkamp’s, spoke of his “tireless and endless fight” to keep the government from putting Social Security funds into the stock market.
“He educated and protected seniors and retirees,” Meinell said. “His vision was for a safe and secure retirement with dignity for all Americans.”