Dentistry Alumni Achievement Award goes to Joseph Peter Spalitto
Joseph Spalitto’s dedication to his alma mater is surpassed only by his love of community service.
Spalitto (B.S. ’68, D.D.S. ’72) is president of the UMKC School of Dentistry Alumni Association, board member for the Rinehart Foundation, sponsor of the Xi Psi Phi Dental Fraternity and has been chair of the Alumni Scholarship Golf Tournament for 18 years. Outside of the university, Spalitto is ‘COMBAT’ Drug Commissioner for Jackson County, Missouri, Exalted Ruler of the local Elks lodge, volunteer for the Westside Community Action Network and board member of the St. Joseph Table at St. Thomas More Church.
For more than 10 years, Spalitto and his wife, Liz, traveled to Guatemala to perform dental missionary work. Because of his contributions to the country, Spalitto was appointed as Honorary Consul of Guatemala and became a member of the U.S. State Department.
Spalitto recently discussed his career achievements with UMKC:
What drew you to dentistry and UMKC?
I was drawn into the field of dentistry by a compassionate dentist who repaired my tooth that was knocked out. And I remember so well standing in a line at the Don Bosco Community Center to be treated by UMKC dental students.
How did you begin traveling to Guatemala to see patients?
After graduation and establishing a successful dental practice, I was asked by my church at St. Thomas More to go to our sister parish in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala. I was so inspired by the first missionary trip that I could not wait to return. And so I did for the next 10 years, bringing medical doctors, plastic surgeons, eye surgeons, dental students and much-needed medical supplies. Also, my own son and daughter were able to join us while they were in their respective health professional school.
The degree of poverty was overwhelming in Guatemala. The average wage at that time was $1 a day. The children had rampant tooth decay due to sucking on sugar cane at bedtime. So most of the population had serious dental problems including severe cleft lips and palates. Medical teams from Florida, Illinois and Arizona participated in a joint effort to treat patients. My wife and I organized huge fundraisers to pay for medical supplies and travel expenses for the students. Cessna donated a plane and flew from Wichita to Guatemala with medical supplies.
You were appointed Honorary Consul of Guatemala and became a member of the U.S. State Department. Tell us about that honor.
I was recommended by several members of the Kansas City Consular Corps to become an Honorary Consul from Guatemala. It took three years for the appointment to take place. I finally got the call from the ambassador about my commission. I traveled to Guatemala City and was sworn in by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. My role included immigration issues, passports, visas, veterinarian permits and death certificates. I deeply enjoyed meeting diplomats throughout the United States including entertaining the ambassador of the United Nations.
What drives you to give back so much time to your alma mater?
I give back to the dental school because the faculty and fraternity, Xi Psi Phi, gave me so much support when the tragic death of my father occurred in my third year. I have been organizing golf tournaments at UMKC raising money for scholarships to help dental students with financial burdens for the last 18 years.
Where does your passion for community service come from?
I got my passion for community service from my parents, visiting the sick and providing medicine for those who could not afford it. The St. Joseph table was my mother’s passion. I have followed in her footsteps by cooking and baking to raise money for food pantries around the city. We have an annual dinner that raises over $20,000.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
My proudest accomplishment was to see my son and daughter graduate from professional school at UMKC. After serving in the military for three years including the beginning of the Iraq War, he opened his dental practice in St. Louis. And my daughter is an OB/GYN in Olathe.
What word or phrase do you use most often?
“Make it happen.”