William Westman's Medallion Anonymously Helps People Around the World
William Westman's Medallion Anonymously Helps
People Around the World
A former longtime Columbia Heights resident has changed the lives of millions of people around the world and will continue to do so each time someone reaches for their sobriety medallion. That man is the late William Westman.
(Right: William Westman. Photo credit: Shelley Johnson)
Westman used his strengths as a coin maker and his struggle with alcoholism to help create the iconic Alcoholics Anonymous medallion used by people battling addiction every day.
Calling Columbia Heights Home
Westman moved to Columbia Heights at the age of 30 in 1961. He spent the next 56 years of his life calling Columbia Heights home before he died in June of 2017.
Shelley Johnson, one of Westman’s three daughters, recalled that her dad was fond of the small-town feel of Columbia Heights and the pride that came with homeownership as he lived in different parts of the City over the years.
(Right: Dolores and William Westman. Photo credit: Shelley Johnson)
Westman used his home to host weekly AA meetings and attended meetings at Our Friends Place Alano on Central Avenue.
Johnson said that back in 1969, when her father quit drinking, he was already working for Wendell’s, a coin-making company, which continues to produce the medallion to this day.
The medallion dates back to 1973 when Westman, who after 12 failed attempts at sobriety, wanted to create something to help people battle their addiction while being anonymous.
“He liked the idea of having the coin, something anonymous, but it would be in your pocket,” Johnson said. “It would be there for you.”
(Right: William Westman's notes detailing the medallion process. Photo credit: Shelley Johnson)
The Wendell’s company still owns the patent on the medallion, which comes in different colors, materials, and designs. The premise behind the medallion is simple. When you feel the urge to drink you can reach into your pocket, touch the medallion, find the strength not to drink, and celebrate your journey to date. The medallion can stay hidden among your pocket change.
“With the raised center design you can put your hand in your pocket and be aware of it there, distinct from the other coins,” Johnson said.
According to Wendell’s website: “When designing his new medallion, Bill used the phrase ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’ as he felt every recovering person should make their journey to sobriety a personal responsibility.”
In the later years of his life, Westman and his wife, Dolores, traveled across the country in an RV purchased by Wendell’s to speak at recovery groups.
At his funeral in Columbia Heights, his sponsor asked members of the crowd to speak on Westman’s behalf. At the time of his passing, Westman had 48 years and three weeks of sobriety to his name. Each person held Westman’s 48-year medallion and spoke about how he personally impacted their life. It was one of the most moving things his daughter had ever seen, she said.
(Right: William Westman's 48-year sobriety medallion. Photo credit: Shelley Johnson)
“My father not only took his strengths in life but also his weaknesses,” Johnson said. “He took both of those things to bring the coin into the world. My sisters and I are so incredibly proud.”
According to TalbottCampus.com “an estimated 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than 10% of them receive treatment.”
If you are or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, please visit aa.org or call 952-922-0880.