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American spirit: Volunteer-driven Red Cross has proved itself in times of crisis

SALISBURY — Early last week, Salisbury attorney Kenneth Stutts gathered together some personal belongings and headed off for flood-ravaged southern West Virginia — his first deployment as an American Red Cross volunteer.

He was leaving work and home for 14 days. The specialized Red Cross training he had received in mass care, logistics and FEMA strategies made him the perfect person to serve as a government liaison.

In West Virginia, Stutts quickly found himself coordinating with emergency managers in four counties, helping to get Red Cross volunteers and supplies to places they were needed the most.

Several Red Cross shelters were opened for people displaced by the flooding, and there were Red Cross cleaning kits to distribute for people whose homes had been filled with water.

“We also have mobile feeding units traveling around to the hardest hit areas,” said Stutts, who was regularly putting in 12-hour days.

Stutts is one example of the thousands of  people who have served as American Red Cross volunteers through the organization’s 100-year history in Salisbury and Rowan County.

Salisbury organized its first Red Cross chapter on June 30, 1916, and received its charter July 21 of the same year. Salisbury/Rowan has the distinction of being the state’s third oldest chapter behind Wilmington and Asheville.

The Red Cross has an extraordinary history in Rowan County, from World War I  and a flu epidemic through the modern era of blood drives, disaster relief services and safety training.

Salisbury’s own Elizabeth Hanford Dole also rose to become its national president, from 1990-99.

The American Red Cross will celebrate its century of service in Rowan County with a special dinner at 6 p.m. July 21 at Salisbury Station.

“I was always very proud — and still am — with what Red Cross provides for the whole world,” says Judy Banish, who served as Rowan’s executive director from 1987-94, then spent 10 more years at the state level as a field service manager.

•••

Sheila Crunkleton, executive director of the Southern Piedmont Chapter, says the Red Cross has 78 trained volunteers in Rowan County today, and both she and the retired Banish put special emphasis on the word “trained.”

“Our mission is delivered by volunteers,” Crunkleton says. “The staff is here to support them.”

There are many ways you can volunteer for the Red Cross. You can be a blood drive worker, part of disaster action teams, a health and safety instructor, provide home fire campaign support, help active military personnel and veterans, be a preparedness educator, work with youth and school clubs and help with transportation.

The Southern Piedmont Chapter as a whole has about 300 trained volunteers in its six-county area.

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, on the disaster side, Rowan County American Cross volunteers helped 56 families. In the 2015-16 fiscal year that ended Friday, 72 families were served.

Most of those local disasters were related to fires or storm damages — cases when homes are unlivable. Red Cross volunteers, supported by Disaster Program Specialist Heather LeMaster, are called in immediately.

They determine whether the families have a place to stay and what they need to return them to livable conditions.

The Red Cross can help with things such as temporary lodging, rent, a security deposit, basic necessities, mental health counseling and putting displaced families in contact with other United Way agencies.

On average, the Red Cross stays in contact with families for 30 days. “We are emergency assistance,” Crunkleton says. “That’s what our goal is.”

Red Cross provides “comfort kits” with basic toiletries and other necessities after families find themselves left with nothing. “It gives you your dignity, and our caseworkers are so caring,” Crunkleton says.

Red Cross also has become known for giving stuffed animals to all family members. Crunkleton says its surprising what those stuffed toys can represent to both children and adults.

“What it becomess is a source of comfort,” she says. “When they’ve just lost everything, it gives them something.”

Because of their training, volunteers are empowered to deliver the Red Cross mission in times of disaster, both Crunkleton and LeMaster say.

“I don’t know if ‘amazing’ is a great enough word for them,” LeMaster says of the volunteers. Stutts is a good example.

“He has given up his life for two to three weeks … to help them during their time of need,” she says.

•••

Beyond Dole and Banish, the more notable Rowan County names associated with the Red Cross through the years have been Dr. Harold H. Newman, the first local president, and in the modern era, longtime board president Reid Leonard; charter member James F. Hurley, then editor and publisher of the Salisbury Post; Evelyn “Pat” Wellman, an executive secretary who held the role from 1937-1982; office assistant Beverly Jones, who worked part-time for the Red Cross for 50 years;  and volunteers such as Doris Peeler Faggart, who has worked monthly blood drives for a half century (see accompanying story).

As American Red Cross’ national president, Dole oversaw a $1.8 billion annual budget, 32,000 employees, and 1.4 million volunteers. It fell to her administration to improve the safety of the nation’s blood supply against AIDS.

The American Red Cross as a national organization goes back to Clara Barton and 1881. Salisbury formed its chapter in 1916 while World War I was raging in Europe and the United States was not yet officially involved.

The Red Cross already was concerned with the refugee problem in Europe, and money was being collected locally to be sent to national headquarters and then overseas. The Salisbury Red Cross launched an intensive membership drive April 7, 1917, when Mayor Walter Woodson declared a “Red Cross Day.”

“Tag booths” were lined up along Main Street to collect money for the coming war against Germany, and bands played at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Mary Henderson, treasurer of the chapter, made a plea in the Salisbury Post for “money, men, women and service.”

Hurley continually wrote ‘”Bring the Matter Home” editorials in support of the Red Cross, and through the years to come, he would use his newspaper to promote the American Red Cross regularly, often streaming banner messages for the organization over the newspaper’s masthead.

People could join the Red Cross for $1 a year.

Efforts toward increasing membership began paying off. By July 1918, the number had grown to 3,600, and there was $23,000 in the organization’s fund.

By that time, too, Salisbury had established 24 branches in the rest of the county — which was a record in the state.

In that war period, the local chapter was putting together 30,000 packages which contained socks, sweaters, surgical wrappings, comfort pillows and kits, pneumonia jackets and helmets.

More notably, the Salisbury Red Cross set up a local canteen, which the “Ladies of Mercy” called the Salisbury Hut, and it served coffee, doughnuts and sandwiches to soldiers passing through Salisbury on the many daily passenger trains.

The canteen was located next to the depot.

The late Rowan County historian James Brawley wrote in 1956: “After the sanguinary battle of Chatieu-Thierry, many men returned from the battlefields wounded, torn and gassed.

“Most of the patients that were gassed were sent to Oteen near Asheville and came through Salisbury on special trains. It was the service the ladies of the canteen rendered the wounded that brings back most vivid memories of those who served.”

When the canteen closed about a year later, Hurley wrote an editorial of gratitude:

“Thanks unspeakable are due these noble women for this service. It was no lark or play hour, but it was as full, rich and loving service which any man appreciates. The American women proved themselves anew during this war.”

•••

Toward the end of World War I, the Red Cross volunteers found themselves responding to a battle of another kind — a Spanish flu epidemic. Thousands of citizens in Rowan County were hit with the flu from late September 1918 to the following October, and the Red Cross went into high-emergency mode to take care of the sick.

“This crisis called forth all the ingenuity and know-how that the organization could muster,” Brawley wrote.

The Salisbury Red Cross solicited more volunteers, erected emergency aid stations, and a soup kitchen was established in the basement of the courthouse. Mrs. Edwin Gregory set up a motor pool to carry meals to homes where whole families were sick.

More than 200 men at Spencer Shops could not go to work because of the flu. Brawley said the epidemic left “thousands weak, some dead and others crippled for life.”

“The Red Cross,” he added, ” had done its job, caring for the sick, but it still faced the unglamorous and drudging work of holding together an organization that had proved itself in time of crisis.”

•••

When The Great Depression hit Rowan County and the rest of the country hard in the 1930s, it led to the reactivation of the Red Cross’ “Production Committee,” which had served Salisbury well in 1918.

Under the direction of Ella Wallace, the committee volunteers received 500,000 bales of cotton and 20,000 yards of cloth from the government that they made into clothing, then distributed to the needy.

From 1932 and over the rest of the decade, the Red Cross here distributed thousands of pounds of flour to 3,000 families and set up Highway Aid Stations, besides helping servicemen and the county welfare department.

By 1939, not long after Wellman had been appointed executive secretary, the local Red Cross had established a relief program, public heath initiative, a Junior Red Cross, Pellagra control, first-aid and life-saving training and an accident prevention and safety program for farmers.

The Production Committee activated again in 1939 in advance of World War II. Brawley reported that 1,970 volunteers produced 8,238 articles for armed forces hospitals and toward foreign war relief.

The local volunteers provided nurses’ aid, surgical dressings and served as a liaison between servicemen and their families. From 1943 to 1947, the local Red Cross collected in fund drives more than $183,000 — an enormous sum for the day.

In July 1943, the Red Cross office moved from the Wallace Building (today’s Plaza) to a house at the corner of South Fulton and West Bank streets. That stone house is a private residence today.

•••

Other offices in the future would include an upstairs headquarters in the 100 block of North Main Street (above Isenhour-Freeman Insurance) and a house at Mocksville Avenue and Cemetery Street next to the Pope & Arey grocery.

To much fanfare, the local chapter headquarters moved to the spacious Hanford Dole Center in 1997.

The building, which now contains the Elizabeth Dole Red Cross office, was made possible by a sizable gift from Dole and her brother, John Hanford, in honor of their parents. Before the 2014 consolidation into the Southern Piedmont Chapter, the Rowan Chapter was officially known as the Elizabeth Dole Chapter.

Robert Jones, the youngest of Beverly Jones’ four sons, says his mother started working at the Red Cross office on South Fulton Street during World War II and stayed with the organization part-time until her death in 1992.

As a boy, Jones mostly remembers his mother working 1-5 p.m. daily at the upstairs office on North Main Street. Later, he also would help her load up supplies at the Mocksville Avenue house for wherever the next blood drive was in the county.

Beyond her office duties, Beverly trained people in CPR, and every other weekend, she was on call. Jones remembers Beverly receiving calls early in the morning, then making connections elsewhere to help arrange for soldiers overseas to come home for the funerals of loved ones.

“I think she saw it as a service industry,” Jones says of his mother’s devotion to the Red Cross. “Of course, she never did it for the money.”

•••

Banish was able to work with Beverly Jones several years before Beverly died. Banish remembers her immediate goals as director were to build a local board again and go full bore into disaster training.

Today, when she walks by the old office on North Main Street, Banish notices the downstairs door still has the Red Cross emblem on it.

“I keep thinking if they ever do anything with that building, I want that door,'” she says.

Again, it symbolizes to her the staff and volunteers who have made the American Red Cross something to be proud of — for 100 years and counting.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

 

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