50 years of service to Red Cross honored

PORT LUDLOW — Bob Helander tried to retire once. It didn’t work.

Fifteen years ago, Helander ended his career with Union Oil in Orange County, Calif., and moved back to Jefferson County where he and his wife, Marjorie, were born and raised.

Now Helander finds himself chairman of the board for the North Olympic Peninsula Red Cross — a job the 78-year-old hopes he doesn’t hold onto for too long.

But on Friday night, the number that really mattered was 1959 — 50 years ago — the year Helander began volunteering with Red Cross.

On Friday night, a group of more than 100 people cheered those 50 years as Helander was awarded a proclamation from Gov. Chris Gregoire.

He started working for the local Red Cross soon after moving back home to Jefferson County.

“One week I was up here, and I read that the Red Cross was closing,” Helander said.

“They were going to throw in the towel, so I showed up to their board meeting and told them I would help out.”

Helander admits it might be a possibility he saved the Red Cross in Jefferson County, but he doesn’t want to take the credit.

“I just had the experience,” he said. “So I found myself as the volunteer manager.”

It was 1994 when Helander joined the Red Cross in Jefferson County.

In 2000, he helped the county chapter merge with the Clallam chapter to form the North Olympic Peninsula Red Cross to make the group more financially stable.

“At one time or another, I’ve probably done every job in the Red Cross,” Helander said.

“And having that knowledge helps us be prepared up here.”

Helander said the Red Cross does the most work when house fires occur.

The organization goes out to the homes, supplies the firemen with water if the fire goes on too long, and then finds shelter for three nights for the victims of the fire.

“The most interesting work is disaster work,” Helander said.

“When you go out and you’re helping people you get a lot in return.”

The Red Cross also trains individuals in disaster preparedness, first aid and CPR and water safety techniques.

The local chapter sends volunteers to hurricanes, floods and fires across the country.

Helander said that what the Red Cross needs now is more donations and more volunteers who would like to be trained.

“You get the donations when disaster strikes but not in the between time,” he said.

“That’s really when we need to be planning for the next one.”

Helander would rather talk about the Red Cross now than his 50 years. However, he did admit that he was looking at the end of his leadership role with the organization.

“I don’t intend to be the chair for much longer,” he said.

“It’s time to turn this over to other people and get the prepared and experienced.

“I am trying to ease out of it somewhat, but I know that in some way I will always still be involved.”

But Friday night was a chance for Helander’s work to be recognized.

The proclamation from Gregoire reads: “[Helander’s] longstanding commitment is truly inspirational, and I am delighted to join with you in applauding Bob for his generosity and spirit of action.”

Helander smiled and graciously accepted the applause. He even posed for photos next to the Red Cross aid trailer that is now adorned with his name. But you could see in his face that for him those 50 years were just, as he puts it, “business as usual.”

________

Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

For more information about Jefferson County Red Cross or volunteering opportunities, call 360-385-2737.

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