The American Red Cross: A Light That Never Fades
By: Jamie Black
|May 21, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma. The remains of a home|
in the aftermath of the tornado. Photo by Talia Frenkel/
American Red Cross.
"Belonging to the wise ones of earth, she did not light the candle in a corner, nor hide it under a bushel lest a wind should blow it out. She set it, instead, upon a high hill. It took over twenty years of patient, vigilant waiting to get it placed, at last, where she desired it to stand… and so Miss Barton trimmed and guarded the candle whose flame was a Red Cross, signifying a service that should reach impartiality in all directions, for the relief of human suffering in times of famine, pestilence, natural calamity or the horror of war.” -Isabelle H. Taylor—Fort Wayne, IN September 7th, 1919
It was 1916—35 years after the birth of the American Red Cross—and a gentleman by the name of Walter Davidson from the Chicago Red Cross was seeking out a person from Fort Wayne to start up a chapter there and inspire his community to join a cause that was greater than itself. At the Plymouth Congregational Church, he found Reverend Arthur J. Folson, who was enthusiastic about this mission and was eager to seek out more volunteers for the cause. So on a bleak November night as a storm was howling and raging on, 20 people arrived at Rev. Folson’s home and unanimously decided that there was to be a Red Cross Chapter in Fort Wayne. Surrounded by men and women of the same mind, Rev. Folson boldly proclaimed, “The call to organize tonight was not a war call; but if war comes, it must find us ready!” And with that, their mission began.
Even though there were initially 20 people who answered the reverend’s call to action, only a few remained. They stayed on and designed the by-laws of their chapter and sent them off to Washington, D.C for approval in early January. Then on January 22nd, 1917 a letter reached the Allen County Chapter House formally decreeing them a Chapter of the American Red Cross. Although his numbers were few, Rev. Folson and his board of directors went in search of more people to join in the work of their newly-formed chapter. After two months of their searching and pleading, the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917—and the Fort Wayne community had a cause worth fighting for. As more and more people came on board, requests came into the Chapter House for assistance with surgical bandage production and staffing hospitals with able-bodied nurses. So in the infancy of the Fort Wayne Chapter, the American Red Cross began assisting military personnel by staffing military hospitals with Red Cross nurses and providing staff with an abundance of surgical dressings and bandages. Today, this service—Service to the Armed Forces—has evolved to communicating messages from families to soldiers overseas and searching for those who are missing in action.
|Nurses work at an American Red Cross recruiting station to|
field new members during World War I. Photo courtesty of
the American Red Cross.
As World War I continued, the American Red Cross in Fort Wayne expanded its “war work” by forming a First Aid committee, which would train men and women to render first aid service in the event of an emergency. A large First Aid mock demonstration took place at the chapter, led by local physician, Dr. W.W. Barnett. It was one of the largest simulations in Red Cross history and the impact of the event spread like wildfire. Soon after that, the Home Care program was developed so that Red Cross nurses could treat the sick in their homes and “hasten their return to usefulness.” While first aid and medical training were growing at the Chapter House, official requests were coming in from outside towns to form branches in their area to help with war work and humanitarian efforts.
“In the clear light of retrospect we realize, now, that nothing really was significant except the great fact that through all the stress and stride of the constructive period, and the endless adjustment of details, the great common heart of Fort Wayne and Allen County was sending out its ever widening stream of relief to the wounded and the suffering, and knitting our people into a unity we never felt before and which we pray may never be dissolved. Each one of us is a part of our Temple of the Red Cross, for its walls are built of clasped hands.” -Isabelle H. Taylor—Fort Wayne, IN September 7th, 1919
Now almost a century later, the Chapter House in Allen County has expanded into the American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana—serving not only Allen County, but also DeKalb, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley Counties in Indiana. Both Disaster Services and Service to the Armed Forces still exist to this day; with the addition of Preparedness and Health & Safety Services (PHSS), International Services and Blood Services—our chapter has the capacity to serve all communities within Northeast Indiana who have been and will be affected by disasters.
|May 22, 2013, Fort Wayne, IN. Red Cross volunteer,|
Jamie Black holds a Branch contract from Grabill, IN
1917- signed by her great-great-grandmother. Photo
by Brianna Elliott.
As I humbly serve as a volunteer with the Red Cross, I always remember what my grandfather taught me as a child, “that helping others with a kind heart is something you should strive for every day and that living this humble and honest life will lead you to true happiness.” And as I sit at the Chapter House and describe the history of our Red Cross to you, I have come across a letter that has shaken me to my core. In my hands, I hold the official request for the formation of the Grabill Branch of the American Red Cross in 1917—signed by Mrs. A.S. Klopfenstein, my great-great grandmother. As I look down upon her signature, the leader of this small-town branch, I cannot help but hear my grandfather’s words play over and over in my head. I would like to think that as a young boy, he may have seen his grandmother’s sewing “parties” with her friends. I imagine him sitting there and watching them for hours; the ladies feverishly working to meet quotas for the Chapter and discuss the need to continue helping others long after wartime had passed. This dedication and unwavering service was an example that he witnessed and carried on in his family life as an adult. Bestowing his wisdom on me, I know that the words of local Red Cross historian Isabelle H. Taylor have come full circle,
“…To preserve the spirit, and something of enthusiasm, of patriotic exaltation of those teeming days in the Chapter House (still resurgent in our hearts when the work of writing it down was begun), as an inspiration to our sons and daughters in years to come has been the purpose of this writing, and trusting that that purpose will at least approach fulfillment, the quill is now laid down.”
For all those young people who are considering becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross, I advise you with a steadfast heart that this will be the best decision you will ever make. Let’s keep the spirit of helping others alive and let Clara Barton’s light shine for generations to come.
I would like to extend a most genuine thank you to Isabelle H. Taylor for your beautiful words and intricate details of our organization found in War Work of the Fort Wayne Chapter of the American Red Cross. Your thoughts are timeless and have a unique beauty that I was honored to have encountered. May your spirit rest in peace.