Crusader Bill Greenwell dies

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He began collecting donations for the WHAS Crusade for Children in the 1960′s and later became the lead fire coordinator of all fire departments that raise money for the Crusade.

In the late 1970′s, Bill took on the effort of coordinating the growing number of fire departments that collect donations for the WHAS Crusade for Children each year.

Longtime Crusader Bill Greenwell passed away Saturday, July 19, 2014.

Bill was honored with the Buddy Award

He was awarded the “Buddy Award” in 2009. It’s an award given to someone who exhibits the true goodness of the WHAS Crusade for Children.

In an emotional presentation around 6:00pm Sunday June 7, 2009 in the WHAS-TV Studio H, Bill was also given an award to honor his daughter Diane “Dee Dee” Rizzo who died suddenly in 2008. The award is entitled the “Above and Beyond Award.”
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From page 74 of the Crusade’s 50th Anniversary book, Miracles by the Million, Bill tells author Bob Hill, “At that time I think there was 80-some odd fire departments involved and it was getting unwieldy,” Greenwell said. “I thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do with 83 fire departments?’ That number has since grown to nearly 200.

Crusade Director Phyllis Knight asked Bill to serve as a liaison between WHAS and the fire departments. Which he did for many years. Bill Greenwell was instrumental for putting in place the Crusade for Children – fire department relationships that exist today. Bill stepped down from his role of lead coordinator in 2000.

In most recent years Bill, his wife Linda and family members have travelled to coordinate Crusade donation remote broadcasts in Columbia, Kentucky and Rough River State Resort Park. These two remotes have aired on WBKO-TV in Bowling Green for more than a decade and are hosted by morning weatherman Chris Allen. Area fire departments have expected to see the Greenwells each year.

He appeared on the 2014 version of the Crusade and had enough energy to participate in the traditional singing of “God Bless America” one last time to close out the Crusade’s 61st campaign.

Thank you Bill from the thousands you’ve touched and for your decades of commitment to the WHAS Crusade for Children.

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Bill Greenwell & Perkey
Bill is pictured with longtime WHAS Crusade for Children host Wayne Perkey near the conclusion of the 61st annual WHAS Crusade for Children on Sunday, June 8, 2014.

Bill Greenwell & Rabideau
Bill shared a moment at the 2014 Crusade with WHAS11′s Chelsea Rabideau.

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Bill has many, many friends as seen here at the 2014 WHAS Crusade for Children.

More from Bob Hill’s interview

For the 50th annual WHAS Crusade for Children, Courier-Journal columnist Bob Hill wrote the book, “Miracles by the Millions” the 50th Anniversary of the WHAS Crusade for Children. He interviewed many people who had been part of the Crusade’s long history. One of those was longtime Crusade Fire Department Coordinator Bill Greenwell. Here’s a selection of what Bob Hill wrote:

In the late 1970s that co-coordinating effort fell into the capable hands of Bill Greenwell of the Highview Fire Department, who first became involved with the Crusade collecting at intersections.

In 1976 he assisted Middletown Fire Department Chief Bob Martin who had put together a crew of people to welcome firemen to the WHAS building.

“At the time I think there were 80-some odd fire departments involved and it was getting a little unwieldy,” Greenwell said. “Bob Martin left to go into business for himself and Phyllis Knight asked if I would put together the same crew and do the same thing.

“I thought to myself, what am I going to do with 83 fire departments?”

Greenwell’s job soon expanded to more than co-coordinating several hundred fire trucks for the Crusade weekend. Knight asked him if he would also serve as a liaison between WHAS and the fire departments, to get ideas and give the fire departments a voice so it would not seem as if WHAS was dictating the Crusade agenda. It was a job he would keep until the 2000 Crusade.

“We would go out year around and meet with the departments individually and tell them what was coming up.

“We would find out what their plans were. One thing we did initially was run a clearing house of sorts to keep neighboring departments, or at least departments close, from planning a function or a fundraiser at the same time.”

That co-coordinating meant Greenwell might have to tell one department holding a fish fry on a certain night that a nearby department had a chicken supper the same night – and could one of them change the date. He kept track of all the culinary events – and hundreds of others – in two, three-inch binders, served as binding arbitrator if need be.

The fundraisers were as varied as they were successful; dances, raffles, bake sales, street festivals and carnivals. One year eager firemen went into a Seventh Street Road nightspot where the female entertainment began selling kisses for $1. Not to be outdone, the firemen began selling kisses for $1, too. But mostly Greenwell had to co-ordinate less exotic fund-raisers, and in time the departments learned to co-ordinate them by themselves.

“Hopefully, everybody that planned something would check with me first,” he said. “I had notes on each department, they were all indexed and I had a master calendar.”

The other reason co-ordination was important was that as one fire department headed downtown toward WHAS – sirens screaming and lights blazing – it was important that neighboring departments were available in case of a fire.

“You can imagine what the publicity would be if a small community with maybe three trucks had its equipment and manpower downtown and a fire started,” he said. “Crusade would get the blame for it.”

So the Crusade began to establish “remote” telecast sites closer to the outlying departments, along with co-coordinating who would deliver the money-laden boots when.

One year in fact, when a tornado went through Pioneer Village and Zoneton in Bullitt County a few days before Crusade weekend, some Jefferson County firemen went to Bullitt County to collect money while the Bullitt firemen worked the cleanup.

All this work was above and way beyond Greenwell’s regular job as security director for Goodrich Chemical Company.

“It started out a few hours a week, but it ended up from February on becoming a 40-hour-a-week job, especially when you would get up toward the Crusade,” he said.

In the early 1980s, as the co-coordinating task became overwhelming, Greenwell set up a committee of seven area co-coordinators who would handle the day-to-day questions in their various departments and counties, then report to him.

Then Greenwell set up another co-coordinating committee at the WHAS end to handle traffic control, accounting and radio communications. Thus the happy invasion of siren-blowing firemen into downtown Louisville could be handled with some degree of almost military control.

“We would put their trucks where they had to be and make sure they came across the stage at the same time their truck rolled up for a camera shot. I think we had 13 or 14 people coordinating all that. We had checkpoints. We set up a command post.”

There were no military salutes – or secret handshakes. But no amount of organization could stifle the competitive juices between the various departments, each eager to top last year’s total, if not the neighboring department’s total.

In the Crusade’s early years it was usually the Archdiocese of Louisville, or General Electric, that brought in the most loot. Greenwell remembered one year when the Pleasure Ridge Park Fire Department learned in advance how much the Archdiocese had collected – and found itself about $800 short of being Number One.

“The Pleasure Ridge chief had people soliciting right here downtown,” Greenwell said. “They even went over to the Federal Building and were getting money out of the fountain.”

Greenwell said Pleasure Ridge Park has been the only department that kept it final total secret until it members walked out before the Crusade TV lights – a secret made possible because it had five departments within the one.
“Each one of the five stations is sort of run by a captain,” he said. “The captain runs the effort in each of the five, and the chief of staff co-ordinates it. No one captain knows what the other has done.”

Greenwell said truth and accuracy are often not associated with a fire department’s pre-Crusade declarations, either. Indeed, the Crusade often involves more sandbagging than the 1937 Flood.

Greenwell remembered one year when the Harrods Creek Fire Department chief, a good friend of his, was loudly complaining what a lousy year it had been raising Crusade money.

“Everyone keeps records as to how well they did on a Friday this year as opposed to last year,” Greenwell said, “and the chief told me ‘It’s not looking good. It’s terrible. We went to one of the most affluent subdivisions and instead of getting $100, $150 and $200 checks, we were getting coins.’ ”

Greenwell said he was practically depressed at his friend’s rotten luck. Then came Crusade Sunday – and the tune changed.

“Not only had he lied to me,” Greenwell said, “he came in with a record year.”

Each department has its own fund-raising techniques, he said. Edgewood would hold a street festival with booths, as would Camp Taylor. McMahan will hit the Crusade hard beginning two weeks before the deadline.

“It’s strictly an effort of love,” he said. “The only thing the departments really compete against is last year’s numbers. The worst thing a department can go through is to come in, go on stage and say, “We’re down from last year. That’s just something no chief wants to do.”

Greenwell said he has been to national conferences with other firefighters, has tried to explain the power and endurance of the Crusade to them, but “they just can’t fathom it.”

He told a story of working an Outer Loop and Old Shepherdsville Road roadblock in pouring rain. Many people travel that weekend with a cup filled with coins on the seat next to them, ready for the next roadblock at the next intersection.

“This one particular case, a man probably in his 80s,” Greenwell said, “He had a handful of change. We were standing out in the driving rain and I walked up to him with a boot, hat or whatever and he put his container on the seat, reached in his wallet, holding up traffic, and he got out a handful of bills.

“He said, “if you’re willing to stand out in this kind of heat and rain, you’re worth more than change.’”

As with many firemen, Greenwell also had a deeply personal story explaining what has driven him to be a part of 30 Crusades.

“The first three years I had been involved with the fire department collecting and road blocking. I had already instilled in my mind, ‘We’re out doing this for other people. That’s why we’re here.”

“Suddenly I got a call that my daughter had delivered premature twins at St. Anthony’s Hospital. They were 26 weeks. One was a pound and three ounces and the other was a pound and six ounces.

“They transferred them immediately to Children’s Hospital by way of a baby buggy – a special pediatric ambulance or premature ambulance they had there.

“Well when we got down there the next day the twins, of course, were under treatment in the little perambulators and all the machinery. We would look around and most of the equipment in there, including the perambulator they were in, had a chrome tag on it saying, “A gift from the Crusade for Children.”

The twins would grow up to be healthy, happy adults. Bill Greenwell was changed forever.

“All of a sudden I wasn’t doing it for anyone else anymore. I had gotten the benefits of it myself. And there’s probably not a department involved that hasn’t been touched by the Crusade in one way or another.”

About the Buddy Award

The Buddy Award is an honor given annually to a Crusade volunteer who exemplifies the spirit and dedication of Bud Harbsmeier. Bud retired in 2000 after serving 18 years as Executive Director of the WHAS Crusade for Children. The honor was created in 2001 by former Crusade for Children Executive Director Dan Miller. The honoree is one who captures the spirit Bud put forth during his tenure.

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