NASW Pioneers Biography Index

The National Association of Social Workers Foundation is pleased to present the NASW Social Work Pioneers®. NASW Pioneers are social workers who have explored new territories and built outposts for human services on many frontiers. Some are well known, while others are less famous outside their immediate colleagues, and the region where they live and work. But each one has made an important contribution to the social work profession, and to social policies through service, teaching, writing, research, program development, administration, or legislation.

The NASW Pioneers have paved the way for thousands of other social workers to contribute to the betterment of the human condition; and they are are role models for future generations of social workers. The NASW Foundation has made every effort to provide accurate Pioneer biographies.  Please contact us at to provide missing information, or to correct inaccurate information. It is very important to us to correctly tell these important stories and preserve our history.  

Please note, an asterisk attached to a name reflects Pioneers who have passed away. All NASW Social Work Pioneers® Bios are Copyright © 2021 National Association of Social Workers Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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Merrilyn Olson Belgum Photo
Merrilyn Olson Belgum* (1924-2014)

Merrilyn Olson Belgum was referred to as the Queen Mother of Comedy. After a 41 year career in social work she retired to become funny full time. She had been director for some years of Minnesota's Cleveland International Program. Her humor came from the human condition. As a wife, mother and 25-year faculty member of Minnesota's School of Social Work, she felt "I am a caretaker of laughter...humor is my guardian."

She took her message of using humor to cope with life's difficulties to thousands of people each year through her shows, workshops and weekly column, “Comic Relief”, in the St. Paul Pioneer.  She delighted audiences in 27 states, Canada, and in Sweden at an International Social Work Conference. General Mills, 3M, AT&T, U. S. West and the University of Minnesota were a few of the corporations for whom she had done workshops and performed. On television, Belgum was seen on KTCA's “Land of  Loons”, Martin Mullo's Show Time Special “Talent Takes A Holiday”, and Seattle's Emerald City Comedy Hour. As a comedian she became well advanced into her second career.

Although she said she was "born funny" she believed that "humor is a divine gift – God’s way of helping us deal with the demons in our lives." She spoke from experience - her husband died after a long illness and her humor helped her to see life in a new way. She said "if you're depressed you cannot find your way out of the door. Laughter helps us find solutions. It is an inner world which helps you make sense of the incredible tragic life that is going around us. Laughter helps you pull your life together, and when the final curtain drops, there's probably a happy ending." With Merrilyn, you knew she was not kidding.

Newly Inducted NASW Social Work Pioneer Hortense McClinton 2015

Nominate A New NASW Pioneer

Please note, Pioneer nominations made between today’s date through March 31, 2023, will not be reviewed until spring 2023.

Completed NASW Pioneer nominations can be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed at the June Pioneer Steering Committee Meeting. To be considered at the June meeting, submit your nomination package by March 31. To learn more, visit our Pioneer nomination guidelines.

New Pioneers 

Congratulations newly elected Pioneers!  Pioneers will be inducted at the 2023  Annual Program and Luncheon. Full biographies and event details coming soon.