Al Wunderlich, a Swansea resident well known for co-founding the Franklin Neighborhood Community Association in Belleville, was honored Thursday night as the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce 2015 Citizen of the Year.
Wunderlich, 83, said soul searching led him to want to “do something different” upon his retirement. Founding the FNCA along with fellow St. Paul United Church of Christ members was the right fit for him, he said, because it serves what he said was his purpose — to help people.
Wunderlich’s career as a tax accountant included 20 years in charge of Anheuser-Busch’s corporate tax department. He said his successful business career allowed him to invest the time and resources needed to pilot FNCA.
Q. What work did you do at Anheuser-Busch?
A. “I managed their corporate tax department. U.S. and foreign. A staff of attorneys and accountants reported to me. It was very challenging, but it was one of the greatest jobs you could ever hope for. I truly enjoyed it. I don’t think there was ever a day that I said, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’”
Q. What led you down the path to philanthropy?
A. “I decided after my retirement I wanted to do something different. All my life I spent many hours volunteering for various organizations; I was quite involved. My main outlet was volunteering. I’ve had a very full life, and because of my great business career and my pension, I was able to change my career entirely. A lot of people said I could go into the consulting business, but my faith tells me there’s more to life than that. With my purpose here, why am I here? My faith was pulling on me, telling me ‘you’ve got to help others.’ I feel good about that. I get good satisfaction out of doing that.”
Q. Do you use skills from your career in your philanthropy?
A. “My business career helped me form the organization. I do all the tax work for it. And I think my business experience was very helpful here. But the second part of it is, you got to take off your business suit and be down to earth.”
Q. Why did you want to work in the Franklin neighborhood?
A. “I was going to St. Paul’s. My wife and I got married in 1952. My wife and I were on the mission board. We did some work here with Franklin School. I could see here they needed help. It kind of grew from the need here. We formed this corporation to serve this neighborhood. The big thing that pushed us into service, more than anything, three or four of us were ushering one Sunday and we walked out to the back of the church and we saw a drug dealer across the street. We need change. People here need help. I’m convinced that a low-income area like this with a school needs this outside help to keep the kids busy, to keep them off the streets.”
Q. Has is worked?
A. “I’m convinced it works. It does work.”
Job: Anheuser-Busch corporate tax department manager (retired); co-founder of Franklin Neighborhood Community Association
Advice: “You got to take your business suit off and get down to earth.”