Humanitarian Al Bismonte still paying it forward
Retired pediatrician Al Bismonte is on a mission of goodwill to the community of Marco as well as the community into which he was born and raised in the Philippines.
At 78, he is still going strong.
Recently, the Marco Island Civic Association honored Bismonte with its highest award – Humanitarian of the Year.
Dianna Dohm, a MICA vice president, noted that when the award was announced, Bismonte was treating patients.
"And where was our humanitarian in January? Dohm asked. "He was in his birth country of the Philippines, administering medical aid to the underpriviledged children of the area. I am speaking of Dr. Albino Bismonte!
"Al still practices medicine and travels to Chicago for a couple of weeks each year to cover while his former partner takes a vacation," Dohm. "He prefers to get paid in the form of medicine so he can take it to his mission in the Philippines where he spends three weeks every year opening a day clinic at his sister's home in a rural part of the country."
During the three weeks he's there, said Dohm, Bismonte "sees about 50-60 children per day and gives them the compassionate medical care they need. For those children that he does not have the proper medication, Al gives them a voucher to go to the only drugstore in the area to get what they need. Al then pays for all of the medicines."
Bismonte says it's important not to forget the early days.
Coming from a large Catholic family, his mother ruled with an iron hand, but his father always had the final word. He is youngest of six siblings that included three boys and three girls.
"My father worked very hard as a handyman to feed and clothe our family and I was brought up to never question his authority," he said.
First he attended elementary school in his hometown of Baao with plans to attend college. But in case he did not finish college, his father sent him to a vocational high school to learn a trade. After high school, he traveled to Manila to study engineering, a vocation his father chose.
After one year of study in Manila, he returned home. He was now 18. Although he was getting good grades he did not want to become an engineer and explained that to his father. "What do you mean," his father asked.
"I want to become a doctor," he answered.
His father did not question his ability to be a doctor. "We were poor and he could not afford to gamble on my future," Bismonte said.
After much thought, his father went to see his other brothers and sisters who by that time had finished college and were working. When his father told them what their brother wanted to do, they all decided to help with the expense. There was no such thing as a student loan in the Philippines.
Arrangements were made to attend medical school, where he became a pediatric specialist. But the young doctor wanted to practice medicine in the United States. That was 1966.
Move to Chicago
Bismonte moved to Chicago for training and began a residency in pediatrics at the county hospital. At first he planned to return to the Philippines, but was now married with children and they did not want to return. He set up a practice north of Chicago in the small family-friendly community of Waukegan. He surmised he must have been doing well when the big hospitals in Chicago started sending their patients to him.
Eight years after leaving the Philippines, he returned for the first time. His parents were still living in the family home that had no electricity. The entire village came to greet him. "You were right to become a doctor," his father told him reluctantly.
Bismonte never forgot what his family did for him. Because he is so grateful, he returns every year for two weeks where he works in a medical mission set up in his family home, treating children at no cost.
"I may not be giving back directly to the people who helped me, but I'm giving back to the community," said Bismonte.
In the mid 80s, one of his doctor friends invited him to Marco Island on a fishing trip.
"When I heard fishing my antenna went up," said Bismonte. Within one hour of his arrival, he knew he was going to build a house here.
Initially his plan was to work two weeks at his practice in Chicago and spend time in Marco two weeks. He did that for a couple years and then decided it was time to retire. Bismonte is an orchid enthusiast with more than 100 plants on his lanai and a number of fruit trees in his yard.
He is involved with the Knights of Columbus at San Marco Catholic Church. One of the men at church invited him to be his guest at his Rotary Club when he first arrived – the late Mike Minozzi. Two weeks later, he joined the noontime Rotary Club, where he continues to be an active member. A past Grand Knight and Eucharistic minister and active Rotarian, Bismonte collects bread once a week from Publix, pastries from Starbucks and delivers them to the migrant workers' community. He also is involved with Bedtime Bundles and delivers for Meals on Wheels .
In 2013, he was awarded Humanitarian of the Year by Noontime Rotary. In 2014, he was awarded the Spirit of Marco Award, and this year, the MICA honor.