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Dakota Datebook

Johnny Kemp


The National Society for Crippled Children was founded in 1919 to provide services to disabled children. In 1934 the society started an Easter Seal campaign to raise money. The campaign was so popular that the society changed its name to Easter Seals in 1967. Every year Easter Seals chose a poster child to act as an ambassador representing disabled children across the country and to lead the annual Easter Seals campaign. On this date in 1960, Bismarck residents opened the newspaper to see a photograph of the Easter Seals Child of 1960, local boy Johnny Kemp. He is shown proudly handing flowers to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Johnny was the first child from North Dakota to be selected as Easter Seals Child of the Year. 

Johnny Kemp was born in 1949. His arms were missing below the elbow, and his legs were missing below the knees. Johnny’s parents took this news in stride and decided to make the best life possible for him. Unfortunately, his mother died when he was a year and half old. His father continued to raise Johnny like any other boy. With the help of prosthetic limbs, Johnny attended school, played sports, joined the Boy Scouts, and even had his own paper route. 

Many in North Dakota were beyond proud of Johnny. The state legislature wrote a resolution in his honor. US Senator Milton Young read a letter about Johnny into the congressional record. Governor John E. Davis and Bismarck mayor Evan Lips also sang his praises. 

Johnny Kemp moved to Kentucky as a teenager, where he excelled in high school. He graduated from Georgetown University and the Washburn University School of Law. He went on to have a distinguished career as an expert in disability law, working for a prestigious law firm in Washington, D-C. He co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities and received many prestigious awards, including the Dole Leadership Prize from the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics.

In 2011 he became the President & CEO of the Viscardi Center, a New York based non-profit specializing in the education and employment of people with disabilities. Back when Johnny was a 10-year-old Easter Seals Child of the Year, he had sat in the audience for the keynote speaker at an Easter Seals event when the speaker was non-other than Henry Viscardi Jr. himself – the founder of the Viscardi Center that Johnny would one day lead.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


AP Photos, “Mamie and Johnny,” The Bismarck Tribune, March 25, 1960, pg. 2.

Author Unknown, “Bismarck Boy is Easter Seal Child,” The Bismarck Tribune, January 23, 1960, pg. 1.

Author Unknown, “Governor, Lips, Father Spain Praise Selection of Johnny” The Bismarck Tribune, January 23, 1960, pg. 1.

Author Unknown, “John D. Kemp, The Viscardi Center, https://www.viscardicenter.org/about/leadership/john-d-kemp-president-ceo/ accessed January 29, 2021.

Author Unknown, “The Story of Easterseals,” Easterseals, https://www.easterseals.com/who-we-are/history/ accessed January 29, 2021.

Welter, Ben, “Yesterday’s News” Aug. 19, 1962: Born This Way,” StarTribune, October 22, 2015. https://www.startribune.com/aug-19-1962-born-this-way/333937681/

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