1944. Italy. With the US Army Air Forces. Their eyes are turned upward as they watch returning bombers circle the landing field. These bomber crew men have just landed themselves from a mission over enemy-held territory and rare now glad to be back at home base, where American Red Cross Clubmobile girls had hot coffee and doughnuts ready for the boys. Left to right: Sgt John C Bellendir, 1368 Raymond St, Chicago; Sgt Raymond Swinglin, 235 S 6th St, Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Sgt Harris B Pate, 109 Spring St, Hamlet, North Carolina; Red Cross girl Peggy Steers, 21 Seymour Pl, White Plains, New York; and Sgt Aubrey Chatters, Rt 2, Millington, Michigan. Photo by Ollie Atkins

Raleigh’s Red Cross chapter  celebrates its centennial

by Jessie Ammons

In the spring of 1917, as World War I raged overseas, a group of 28 Raleigh women sought to make a difference at home. They founded the Raleigh chapter of the American Red Cross and adopted the bold mission of supporting military members and their families regardless of nationality. This month, what’s now known as the Triangle Chapter will commemorate its 100th anniversary with a centennial celebration at the N.C. Museum of History June 24.

The spirit of fearless female leadership behind the local chapter’s founding continues today, says current chair Heather Denny. “From the beginning, women like Clara Barton laid the groundwork for the organization. In Raleigh, we had strong women that created our chapter,” she says, including the first female physician in North Carolina, Jane McKimmon. Denny points out that the chapter’s tenacity is thanks to strong leadership from men as well. Still, “we have great female leaders … who understand what it means to affect change, and are willing to do the work to make it happen.”

That work is evident during crises that happen daily in our community. “We all think of the Red Cross when there are large disasters – and yes, we are there. But we are also there for the disasters that a single family (may) face each day, should it be a house or apartment fire, or needing to get in contact with a family member in the military … In a moment of crisis, even the most prepared needs someone to help him or her find their way.”

courtesy City of Raleigh Museum

The June 24 event will honor the Red Cross’s original military connection. Attendees, which will include members of the U.S. Congress and N.C. legislature, will watch war-time reenactments, tour an exhibition of art by wounded marines, and listen to a performance by the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band. The evening will be co-presented by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as part of the state’s commemoration of World War I. The museum will cut the ribbon on an adjoining exhibit as well.
Denny says the celebration marks an important opportunity to commemorate the nonprofit’s decades of work. “I feel that the Red Cross is that quiet organization that serves our community, and we all assume it will always be there. (It’s easy to forget) all that it takes to keep it viable.”