LIMA— There aren’t too many people alive today who can say they’ve volunteered for any organization for nearly three quarters of a century.
VaLaire Orchard will reach 75 years of volunteering for the American Red Cross in 2018. She’s 91 now and remembers very clearly how she became involved in the Red Cross.
“I was one of the head guards at Schoonover’s in the summer of 1943,” Orchard recalled. “There was a Red Cross swimming instructor who had a class there. So one day she said, ‘VaLaire, do you know how to do all of the basic swimming strokes?’ And I said, ‘Well I think so.’ And she said, ‘Would you get in the water and demonstrate those strokes, and I will stand here on deck and explain them to the students.’
”I was getting into the pool and she says, ‘Oh, by the way, you’re not going to get paid for this,’ she said. ‘I’m a volunteer, and that makes you a volunteer,’” Orchard recalled.
Since then, she’s become involved in the American Red Cross in so many ways.
Derek Stemen, executive director of the American Red Cross of West Central Ohio nominated her for the Presidential Award for Excellence.
“I didn’t know that Derek had nominated me. I got a call from the Columbus Red Cross office,” she said. “Talk about shock. I just about dropped the telephone. It’s a great thrill; it really is.”
Orchard will be presented the award in a special ceremony on Feb. 28 in Washington D.C.
“In my opinion, VaLaire is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person. She has done such incredible things over her entire lifetime for the Red Cross and for the community,” Stemen said. “She’s well known in the community, and I’m just proud to be able to be associated with her in any way. She has been a continual advocate for the Red Cross and has lived the mission of the Red Cross for 75 years, which is an incredible feat in and of itself.”
Orchard said with a chuckle, “I’ve said the reason I’m getting this award is because I’ve just outlived everybody.”
“I’m not the only national winner — there are 25 — but still 25 out of the thousands of volunteers is just mind-boggling to me,” she said.
Stemen said, “It represents a volunteer that has gone way above the call of duty and has represented the Red Cross faithfully through living out the mission every single day.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.