LIMA — A local volunteer who has been serving the American Red Cross since the end of World War II provided an oral history of the organization Sunday during an event at the Allen County Museum.
VaLaire Orchard, who is in her 74th year with the Red Cross, took the more than 20 individuals who attended the presentation all the way back to a time when the Red Cross was just an idea and not the organization it is today.
Orchard spent the first portion of her speech describing the early life of Clarissa “Clara” Barton, who brought the Red Cross to America in the late 1800s. The International Red Cross, of which the American organization is based, was founded in 1863 by a Swiss man named Henry Dunant.
When Barton learned about the humanitarian organization from Dunant, she immediately made an appointment to see then-President Rutherford B. Hayes.
“The more she saw, the more she knew the U.S. must be a part of it,” Orchard said.
Orchard explained that Hayes was “too busy” at the time, and essentially ignored her request to establish the organization in America. When President James A. Garfield was elected, Orchard said he was “very interested,” but he was assassinated before the two could bring the idea to Congress.
When Garfield’s vice president Chester A. Arthur took over as leader of the U.S., Barton was finally able to take the presentation to Congress. Orchard said Barton was “smart and shrewd,” so she made sure the American press was aware of and supported the idea of establishing an American Red Cross.
With widespread approval among the American people, Congress “wholeheartedly” voted in the American Red Cross. It was officially established on May 21, 1881. The U.S. became the 32nd country to join the International Red Cross.
Though it was initially designed to provide aid for military on the land and on sea, as well as prisoners of war, a fourth amendment was added to include support for victims of disasters.
The first major disaster the Red Cross became involved in was a great flood that occurred in 1884 along the Ohio River. In subsequent years, the Red Cross provided aid with the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania, the Spanish American War, the San Francisco earthquake, World War I, World War II, and The Great Depression, among others. It was during World War I when the Allen County chapter of the Red Cross was born, Orchard said.
In more recent years, the Red Cross has sent aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks. Locally, the Red Cross housed, fed and cared for more than 500 people who were trapped because of the great Ohio blizzard of 1978.
Whether it’s a natural disaster that has caused widespread damage or a house fire that affects just one family, Orchard said there is nothing too big or too small the Red Cross can’t help with.
“Relief comes in many forms,” Orchard said. “Sometimes it’s a need for somebody to talk to, sometimes it’s a need for somebody who cares. That, my friends, is the Red Cross.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @Bush_Lima.