The gentle nature of Richard and Kathy Kennard shows through, even as the couple sits down for a photo recently at the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross in Everett. The Kennards team up to help people, often in the middle of the night following emergency calls. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

The gentle nature of Richard and Kathy Kennard shows through, even as the couple sits down for a photo recently at the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross in Everett. The Kennards team up to help people, often in the middle of the night following emergency calls. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Red Cross

This is part of The Daily Herald’s annual report on charity in Snohomish County. Complete list of stories

EVERETT — Snohomish County was eager to contribute.

Volunteers, young and old, wanted to help out in uncertain times. Joining the American Red Cross was seen as a way to do that.

With the nation banding with its allies in World War I and an influenza epidemic spreading in the Pacific Northwest, local Red Cross branches sprouted up across the county in cities and towns big and small: Everett and Edmonds, Startup and Index.

That was 100 years ago, a time of unprecedented growth for the humanitarian organization founded by Clara Barton in 1881. Nationally the number of local chapters rose from 107 in 1914 to 3,864 in 1918. Membership during that time jumped from 17,000 to 20 million adults and 11 million Junior Red Cross members. By 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, the number of Red Cross members in Snohomish County eclipsed 14,000.

Today, there is one countywide chapter engaged in lifesaving and relief work. It relies on the contributions of 450 volunteers. The chapter last year trained more than 5,000 people in lifesaving skills, including first aid, CPR and water safety, and it offered a helping hand at 164 local disasters, most often home fires.

Nationally, 93 percent of the Red Cross work force is volunteer; it’s 98 percent in Snohomish County, said Chuck Morrision, the chapter’s executive director.

“That’s volunteers who are responding 24/seven, 365,” he said. “It’s someone waking up in the middle of the night in Edmonds to help out a family in Darrington.”

Richard and Kathy Kennard of Snohomish are a part of the chapter’s volunteer force.

The husband and wife are on a disaster action team that goes out at any hour to aid others in traumatic times, most commonly after homes are lost or damaged by fire. Richard also heads up a countywide smoke-alarm campaign, which installed 788 fire warning devices last year and has a goal of 908 this year. The big push will be the week of October 19, the centennial of the Snohomish County chapter receiving its charter, when volunteers hope to install 500 alarms.

The Kennards have been volunteering with the Red Cross for a couple years. They continue to learn from others who have been at it much longer.

Richard is retired from the City of Seattle water department; Kathy continues to work at Bartells. They’re grandparents and have been married for 45 years. During that time, they have made many faith-based trips to Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania where she has offered counseling and he has helped build churches.

It was Kathy’s idea to sign up for the Red Cross .

“She kind of pushed me,” Richard said. “She said, ‘Lets team up and do something together.’”

He’s glad she gave him that nudge.

“It’s so humbling for us to be able to do this,” he said. “This is a terrific way to help in Snohomish County, support the Red Cross and to support each other.”

Kathy has found the work fulfilling and enjoys their time together.

She also had an ulterior motive. She figured: “The more active he was, the healthier he would be.”

The Snohomish County chapter has people who volunteer close to home and those who cross the state and the country to help in times of crisis, whether the aftermath of wildfires, hurricanes or tornadoes.

A century of local volunteering has yielded support in thousands of ways: milk rations for children at schools during the Great Depression, youngsters in the early 1940s making Yule logs from old magazines to buy turkeys for the needy, and small armies of folks sewing, knitting and preparing bandages in times of war. Local nurses joined the legions of Red Cross volunteers.

Support was plentiful for servicemen stationed at Paine Field. Junior Red Cross members provided hundreds of Christmas stockings. Grownups collected and fixed furniture. They brought in beds for returning soldiers as well as bats, balls, mitts and playing cards. Eighteen dozen horseshoes were given to various military posts.

One Red Cross volunteer outlined a few of the more unusual requests that came in during World War II. They included a mother asking that a birthday cake be made and delivered to her son, and a wife who wanted her husband shadowed during his five-day pass.

The mission, of course, is much broader, and the needs, more serious. Today, as in the past, the Red Cross depends on the generosity of others — “the contributions of time, blood and money from the American public to support our lifesaving services and program,” the agency’s literature says.

Morrison, the chapter’s director for the past 12 years, said there are many lesser-known contributions the Red Cross makes, including communications systems connecting military families and long-term spiritual and emotional counseling months after a disaster has struck.

Morrision has seen many changes in his time with the Red Cross. He’s optimistic about the future.

“The longevity in itself is amazing. Few organization weather a century of existence,” he said. “In the last decade, we have positioned ourselves well for the next century.”

One thing hasn’t changed, he said.

“The whole goal is to help families that are separated and (people who are) hurting,” he said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

Learn more

To learn more about the Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross, call 425-252-4103 or go to www.redcross.org/local/washington/chapters/snohomish-county.

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