Local Red Cross celebrates 92 years

Article Published: Nov. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Local Red Cross celebrates 92 years

On Nov 20, 1917, then publisher of the Watauga Democrat R.C. Rivers sat down with a group of locals and W.L. Peel, officer of the American Red Cross southern division.

George Hagaman, Tom Liller, M.B. Blackman, E.F. Lovell, F.A. Linney, W.C. Coffey, Lon Payne, Pearl Hodges, Sallie Rivers, Mrs. Coffey and mayor J.M. Moretz were in attendance.

By the end of the meeting, a petition to form the Watauga County Chapter of American Red Cross was signed by all in attendance. A chapter continuing to serve the community 92 years later.
The chapter was initially assigned a 450-member quota with membership cost of $1.50.
Of that membership due, 50 cents would stay in the county for local efforts.

During World War I, the Watauga chapter was charged with raising $4,200, or approximately $1 per registered voter, in 1918 toward the national Red Cross $100 million goal for the war fund campaign.

In the June edition, Rivers reported the chapter had exceeding the goal by raising $4,800, but continued to ask residents to step forward and continue the war effort fund-raising and helping raise money for locals in need.

Once again the Watauga chapter exceeded the fund-raising goal during the war effort fund-raising during World War II. Not only raising money, but organizing ladies groups to knit socks, gloves and hats to be shipped overseas.

The local chapter continued to serve the communities in Watauga since its inception. One of the most notable Red Cross assistance actions was organized in response to a devastating flood in August of 1940. Torrential rain fell for more than a week causing landslides and flooding. By Aug. 22, 16 people had drowned or were missing and 32 homes had been destroyed. Farmlands, highways and commercial buildings had been washed away.

Stella Garbee, then executive director, made her way to the chapter office. Finding all the phone lines in the county were down, she went to the sheriff and requested deputies go to the volunteers' homes to alert them the chapter was meeting.

Garbee organized the volunteers into teams to survey the damage and find the families in need. More than 50 families needed food, shelter and clothing. Assistance was needed from the National Red Cross, however the lack of telephone and telegraph services made the call impossible. Paul Weston, a young volunteer, was able to travel to Winston Salem to send the distress message to the national office. Food, clothing and supplies began arriving shortly after.

Watauga began blood collections in the 1950s, with an average of eligible donors participating nearly double the national average. Water safety and first aid training are also efforts led by the Red Cross. In 2000, more than 3,000 health and safety certifications were issued annual in the county and more than 400 people were enrolled in water safety programs.

The annual report for 2007 indicates the Watauga Red Cross responded with aid for 12 residential fires. The organization provided 20 affected individuals with emergency food, shelter and supplies.

More than 3,800 community members participated in health and safety programs, including CPR and first aid classes.

Watauga Red Cross continues the tradition of assisting military families. Throughout 2007, the agency provided emergency communication, such as birth, death or illness, to 20 local military families.

Red Cross hosted 80 blood drives throughout the county, collecting 3920 units of blood. This reflected a 31 percent growth over 2006.

The Watauga Red Cross is a volunteer-based organization.

The total workforce, encompassing board members, instructors, disaster action teams, administrators and event organizers, consists of 97 percent volunteers. More than 700 volunteers contributed time and skills in 2007.

A remarkable feat of 2007 was the conclusion of a longstanding open case from WWII. The Watauga Red Cross assisting in tracing a Holocaust victim dating back to 1939.

For more information, to make a donation, or become a Red Cross volunteer in continuing the long community tradition, call the local office at (828) 264-8226 or visit http://www.wataugaredcross.com.

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