GREENVILLE — Since Clarissa Harlowe Barton, known most famously as Clara Barton, founded the American Red Cross, in 1881 at age 60, there are more than 600 locally supported American Red Cross chapters, more than 500,000 volunteers and approximately 35,000 employees that provide assistance to the victims of more than 60,000 disasters, according to RedCross.org.
Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field during the Civil War. Her willingness to provide help to people in distress guided her throughout her life. By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service and left impressions on many people, such as American Red Cross Northern Miami Valley Ohio Chapter Executive Director Lynne M. Gump.
Gump read a book about Barton when she was about 13, and has been a Red Cross volunteer since she was 11.
“She was a fierce woman and I didn’t recognize it then,” Gump said of Barton. “This is my passion — I love what I do.”
The American Red Cross Northern Miami Valley Ohio Chapter serves Champaign, Clark, Darke, Logan, Miami and Shelby counties. According to Gump, everyone has a Red Cross story, such as teaching elementary school children proper hand-washing skills to pillow-case projects to disaster relief. To be considered an active volunteer, one has to have volunteered in the last year and had some contact with the Red Cross in the last six months. The volunteer count for the Northern Miami Valley Ohio Chapter is 190 for six counties.
“That’s not a lot,” Gump said. “If you sign up, we are counting on you and you have to be there.”
This is something Lucy Wolfe, Loretta Johanson and Mareta Headapohl know very well. Between the three of them, they have given 215 years of volunteer service. Wolfe was just recognized at the chapter’s annual Meeting and Volunteer picnic, May 20, for her 80 years with the Red Cross. She joined at age 23 and has been helping with disaster relief everywhere, from places such as Key West, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee to the September 11, 2001 attacks (9/11) in New York City.
“You’ve helped somebody — that is why I am in this,” Wolfe said. “Every time there is a disaster, they call me and I take off.”
Sixty-year volunteer Loretta Johanson asked Wolfe if her bag was still packed to go on a disaster. Johanson was 13 when she started volunteering at a Presbyterian hospital as a candy striper.
“I just wanted to help someone and I have a very good feeling helping others,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoy it.”
During her volunteer career, Johanson was involved in many wars and disasters setting up temporary shelters and clinics. She was present at the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War taking care of the soldiers. She recalls helping to set up clinics at the Clark Air Force Base, then a U.S. Air Force base in the Philippines. And she was at the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City. She is the Red Cross volunteer coordinator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Fairborn, Ohio, and is in need of several volunteers.
“I won’t quit,” Johanson said. “It’s just something inside me. The whole thing is giving to others. You talk to Lucy and the other volunteers. We don’t know why we do it. She’s going to keep doing it until her end and I will continue until mine. Look in the obituaries — that will be our last day volunteering.”
Mareta Headapohl, began her Red Cross volunteer career as a 10-year-old Girl Scout collecting fat and tin for the war effort during World War II. She has been at it for 75 years. She wears her colorful pins around her neck, acknowledging her work throughout the years.
“We are a smaller world now with all of the wireless,” she said. “We are watching the war in Afghanistan while it is going on. During the Second World War, it would have come through the news process and it may have been a week later when we saw what was going on. It’s mind-boggling.”
American Red Cross Northern Miami Valley Ohio Chapter Chair Christina Chalmers said, “Anytime there is a disaster — floods, tornadoes, fires — the Red Cross is there. All of the services are here to help people. We do need the Red Cross.”
To volunteer, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities.