Edward J. Kampf, '65, DMD
It takes only the first few moments in conversation with Niagara alumnus Ed Kampf, '65, to realize he experiences his life as a mission to be most fully and vitally lived. But he doesn't think that he is special in any way. Rather, Kampf will be the first to offer that his life has been one of gifts received and returned; gifts that have inspired a personal philanthropy whose currency is vested in his hands as a dental surgeon.
Kampf is a graduate of NU's College of Arts and Sciences. His tenure at Niagara was during a time when much of the American way of life was just beginning to come under cultural and political scrutiny. He credits his parents, and later, his NU classmates, for helping to reinforce his sense of wanting to give back. Kampf maintains that his experiences helped him recognize that "community" extends to any and all people who present themselves in need.
After graduating from Niagara, Kampf entered the School of Dental Medicine at Tufts University. He performed his residency at Albany Medical Center and was approached after completion with offers to join already well-established dental practices in the Albany area.
However, Kampf, who was now married and had adopted a child, wanted to serve as a dentist and dental surgeon in either VISTA or the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, neither program offered service opportunities to persons with dependents under 18 years of age. Nevertheless, Kampf knew that he had to follow his mission and find a way to care for others whose needs were great and whose abilities to access the care required for these needs was severely limited.
His search for areas where his talents, clinical skills and compassion would serve others revealed an area of Appalachia in West Virginia whose people had not seen a dentist in decades.
"I was able to make some arrangements with the local banker and some business people who helped raise a note to finance the purchase of dental equipment and office space, and we went into business," Kampf says. "I was booked eight months in advance. People would come in from the hills once a year and show up at the office and I would perform extractions and fillings and they would pay me sometimes in homemade wine or chickens," he adds with a bit of a chuckle.
The Kampfs planned to stay in Appalachia for one year to establish a dentistry presence. That year stretched into more than two due to the effort it took to recruit dental practitioners who would agree to replace Kampf in the growing work and establish a permanent resident practice in this underserved region.
Their time in West Virgina came to a close with Kampf essentially gifting the practice to a new dentist before returning with his family (now enriched by the adoption of a baby girl) to Albany to establish his private practice.
Kampf's service in Appalachia became the bedrock upon which he built his future volunteer efforts. While his private practice, and his family, grew, Kampf continued to serve in other remote and impoverished areas, most notably in Central America and Mexico.
Under the auspices of Health Teams International and later as part of "Project Guatemala" of the Glens Falls Hospital Medical Mission, Kampf served with volunteer medical and dental teams that cared for people in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of Belize, Guatemala and the Sierra Madre region of Central Mexico.
To understand the conditions Kampf worked in during these mission trips, it is important to know that in Guatemala alone, the infant mortality rate is 28 deaths per one thousand births; diseases that are no longer known in advanced, industrial countries ravage the population; and it was only as late as 1996 that Guatemala was able to end a 36-year, guerilla-led war in which well over 100,000 Guatemalans were killed and one million refugees displaced. In Belize, as well as in Central Mexico where Kampf has also served, the health status of the people for whom these missions care is equally dire.
"I always felt that I had a lot relative to the rest of the world and that I should share it or give back," Kampf says.
In response to a question of how he feels his time at Niagara influenced his future, Kampf says, "I was impressed by the dedication of the Vincentians, most especially Father Thomas McGourty. But I was equally influenced by their faith in me and what that faith demanded of my personal responsibility in what they, as faculty and mentors, expected of me. That, along with the lifelong partnership with my wife, Anne, has made all the difference."