Ingalls’ Community Relations Director Joan Millender Retires


(June, 2015)

Community relations has been more than just a job for Joan Millender of Ingalls Health System. It has been her passion and truly defines what she has done for Chicago’s South Suburbs over the past 25 years.

A tireless worker for underprivileged children, expectant mothers and women facing breast cancer, Millender is retiring from her role as Community Relations Director for Ingalls effective June 1.

“Joan has helped many communities in the South Suburbs forge a valuable link with Ingalls Health System,” explains Kurt Johnson, Ingalls President/CEO. “Her efforts have resulted in greater availability of health education, wellness programs and a host of outreach activities that have enhanced the lives of countless families.”

Under Joan’s leadership, Ingalls has been instrumental in helping thousands of area children prepare for the start of school each year through KidFest, an annual event that offers free or discounted school physicals, dental exams and immunizations. “Through my work with area school superintendents, I had discovered that hundreds of area children had to miss the first few weeks of school because they didn’t have their required physicals and immunizations,” she explained. “No child should have to start the school year late and play catch-up. It’s like coming to church late and having to sit in the back row. I firmly believe that when children are equipped with the necessities, they are more likely to enjoy academic success.”

So Millender worked with the Family Christian Health Center and many other local agencies to bring doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals together on one day in late July to help local kids get their physicals for free or at a deeply discounted price. That was 18 years ago. The event is still a huge draw today and pulls in nearly 1,500 participants each year. To encourage attendance and create a festive family feel, the event offers activities, entertainment and refreshments, and each child receives a brand-new backpack filled with school supplies for the new year.

“When children are prepared for the start of the school year, they’ll have a better experience overall,” she said. (KidFest 2015 is scheduled for Saturday, July 25, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the grounds of Family Christian Health Center in Harvey.)

As president of the Southland Coalition to Conquer Breast Cancer, Millender has also played a pivotal role in educating African-American women about prevention and early detection of breast cancer.

“African-American women suffer twice the death rate of white women from the disease,” she explained. “Through education and outreach, the coalition gives them the courage, the hope and the resources they need to prevent breast cancer or catch it early, when it’s most treatable.”

Millender was also instrumental in the development of the Harvey Community Center, designed to enhance the quality of life for families and individuals. “The center provides a space for children and families that is safe, inviting – and free of charge,” she said.

Among her many other endeavors, Millender is an active worker with Stork’s Nest, a program that educates expectant mothers about prenatal care and provides incentive, such as baby clothing and supplies, to encourage doctor’s visits. She’s also partnered with a host of community and civic organizations over the years, including school districts, religious organizations, human and social service agencies, to address health, wellness issues and community concerns.

“This has been so much more than a job for me,” she adds. “I think concern for others really brings out the best in all of us.”

A native of Alabama, Millender said it was her “community-activist” parents that inspired her to serve others throughout her life and career.

“They didn’t call it ‘random acts of kindness’ back then, but that’s exactly what I witnessed my parents doing throughout my childhood,” she recalls. “They were very kind people and made a difference in so many people’s lives. My dad taught us that when you’re in a position to help someone, you help.”

Although she’s retiring, Millender plans to continue sharing her time, talents and energy for the betterment of the community far into the future. She also plans to travel and spend more time with her two grown sons and two granddaughters.

“It has been a privilege to work alongside Joan for the past two decades,” Johnson added. “Her legacy of community service and outreach is an inspiration to us all, and we will continue to devote time and resources to the many vital programs she created throughout her remarkable career at Ingalls.”