A Conversation with Bishop Jack McKelvey, Retired Episcopal Bishop of Rochester

Jack and Salva at our 2017 fundraising brunch.

Jack and Salva at our 2017 fundraising brunch.

Jack McKelvey came to the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester in 1999 and became Bishop in 2000. He met Salva Dut, founder of WFSS and former "Lost Boy" or "Walking Boy" of Sudan, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Salva had been worshiping at St. Paul’s for several years. “It was fascinating to talk to someone with his story to tell,” said Jack.

The Episcopal Diocese became involved with another 50 “Walking Boys” who came to Rochester. Jack reached out to the Red Wings General Manager and asked if they would provide the group with tickets to a game. The group, including Salva, was welcomed to the game, invited down on the field and given baseballs, Kodak cameras, and hats.

After the Red Wings game, Jack would see Salva at Wegmans, where Salva worked, and other places around town. They got to know each other and became friendly. “Salva always said that he ultimately wanted to go back home to do something for his people,” noted Jack. After Salva visited his father, ill from drinking contaminated water, he realized that how he would help would be by bringing clean water to those who had none.

Salva reached out to Jack for help with fundraising. Jack’s initial thought was “this is an incredibly large task to raise money to do what he wants to do in a country we don’t know.” But Jack knew Salva well enough to know it was possible. “The way he told his story, people just gravitated to him”, he said. Jack hosted a meeting with Salva, Jim Blake, and Scott Arrington to talk about fundraising.

Jack continued to meet with Salva periodically, but Jim and Scott were instrumental in getting more people on board with the project. Things really began to turn around when Linda Sue Park wrote A Long Walk to Water (ALWTW,) said Jack. The challenge was managing growth. The two greatest gifts WFSS ever received were, ALWTW and John Turner,” Jack reflected.

John Turner carried WFSS through a major growth spurt. John would talk to Jack about receiving phone calls from Salva at 3:00 a.m. John would be on the phone in his pajamas solving day to day problems. “It was all volunteers,” said Jack, “Chris Moore, Scott Arrington, and Nancy Frank also helped.”

Upon retiring in 2008 Jack joined the WFSS Board of Directors and still serves on the Board today. When the Episcopal Diocese asked Jack what gift they could present him to thank him for his service Jack asked that they raise money to fund a trust in the Diocese with the purpose of supporting the Millennium Development Goals. Three of the first four grants from the fund went to WFSS. “I’ll never touch people that far away in any other way,” Jack remarked.

When I asked Jack if he expected WFSS to become what it is today, he responded “I never stopped to think about that. I assumed we would just keep on keeping on.” Jack noted that it was Bob Shea who pulled WFSS into a new awareness with strategic planning; “I realized then that there are a whole lot of people counting on WFSS.” Jack also praised WFSS Executive Director Lynn Malooly for her leadership, “she is adept at pulling all the strings together,” and Board member Angelique Stevens for her well evaluation trip, “the notion of Salva and his team developing and building these wells and that they last is remarkable.”

Jack has represented WFSS at several schools and stated “I don’t know when I have felt any prouder of WFSS than when I have gone to schools. To see the pride in those young people who have read ALWTW and embraced Salva’s dream amazes me.”

Jack concluded our conversation commenting, “That we have 320 wells and provide water for close to 500,000 people is astounding. I am so happy, very pleased that the wells have lasted.”