BY Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Bill Kelleher grew up admiring the military duties of his World War I veteran father and his brothers who served in the Vietnam War.
He didn’t join the military, but he did the next best thing. He supported the families of those stationed at Luke Air Force Base through the Glendale Chamber of Commerce Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. He was on the board for 40 years before retiring in February.
“I was not privileged enough to be a member of any part of the armed services, but my father was a Marine during World War I,” Kelleher says.
“The mustard gas basically took him at an early age. I was 15 when he passed away. I have two brothers who were also Marines. One was in Korea, and my youngest brother was in Vietnam. I fell between the cracks. Back then, you signed up for the draft. I was too young for Korea and too old for Vietnam.”
Kelleher connected with veterans and military personnel because of his family’s involvement. His favorite shirt is one that bears a U.S. flag that reads, “Stand for the flag.” At the bottom is a cross that says, “Kneel at the cross.”
The Military & Veterans Affairs Committee is dedicated to assisting the Glendale Chamber of Commerce with programs and events. It also helps create a strong relationship between the local business community and military units in the Valley.
“We are very in touch with what the needs are out there,” Kelleher says. “It’s been a blessing to me. I sit back now and just listen. I’ve been there, done that.”
The committee’s priority projects are Glendale’s military induction ceremony, military appreciation breakfast, Veterans Day ceremony, Luke Shoot Out Golf Tournament, and flag repurposing and retirement program.
It supports Stand Up for Veterans, Mayor Jerry Weiers’ Big Dog Run, the Healing Garden and Traveling Vietnam Wall.
Stand Up for Veterans is a collaborative, community-based effort that honors and supports veterans by providing access to employment, education and community resources to address the holistic needs of veterans and their families.
Attorneys and court representatives are on hand to immediately address and help with legal issues. Employers are in attendance, some of whom can hire veterans on the spot.
One of the committee’s signature causes is Operation Warm Heart, which supports Luke Air Force Base families.
“We thought it would be nice to have some sort of involvement with children or dependents whose parent is deployed someplace else but the family still lived here,” Kelleher says.
The Military & Veterans Affairs Committee hosted cookouts with hamburgers and hot dogs at Murphy Park for Luke Air Force Base families. The annual Luke Shoot Out Golf Tournament is promoted and marketed through the committee.
During his tenure with the Military & Veterans Affairs Committee, Kelleher was a licensed mortician and embalmer at Glendale’s Chapel of the Chimes Mortuary, from which he retired. He grew up in Illinois, but he moved to Glendale in June 1973 to help his daughter, who had breathing issues.
His love for Glendale translated to volunteer work and strong relationships with the mayors.
“I’ve been very fortunate over the years,” he says. “I’ve been associated with six of the mayors since I came here. We’ve been on a first-name basis. Glendale is like an old hometown.
“I’ve always tried to stay involved. When I joined, I was the new kid on the block. There were these other three gentlemen and me. I thought, ‘Let’s try to get some type of partnership out at the base where we can maybe help on a monthly basis.’”
In the Military & Veterans Affairs Committee’s early days — and up until the 9/11 terrorist attack — it alternated meeting in the Glendale Chamber of Commerce conference room and Luke Air Force Base. Base commanders, and occasionally wing commanders, were affiliated with the committee.
Kelleher says, from an economic standpoint, it makes sense for the chamber to be involved with Luke Air Force Base, as it’s one of Glendale’s major employers.
“They’re partners with us, and we’re partners with them,” Kelleher says. “Glendale has been fantastic when it comes to the needs of former and present military.”
Now was the right time for Kelleher to retire because, he says, he will soon turn 80 years old.
“It’s time to get out of here and let some new kids sit here,” he says. “I’ll try to stay involved, and if there’s a need out there, I’ll help.”