Chicago Red Cross Centennial: A Look Back on a Century of Service

Chicago Flood 1947 - Copy(CHICAGO, IL) – Rewind the past 100 years when the local Red Cross was established in Chicago to today’s reach of serving 9.5 million people in 21 counties in Northern Illinois. You’ll see how the Red Cross has touched so many lives, for so many years in our community since 1915.

We’re halfway into our Centennial year, and there’s still much more to celebrate. Join us in this historic occasion:

  1. Share your Red Cross story on chicagoredcross100.com. #ChicagoRedCross100
  2. Take a Class
  3. Volunteer
  4. Give Blood
  5. Donate
  6. Download our free Emergency App so you have lifesaving information in the palm of your hand.

A Look Back at the Past and Next Generation

Here’s a window through the decades of some classic moments of our past thanks to the Chicago Tribune archives, to what we’ve been doing in the community leading into this milestone year, according to Fran Edwardson, Chief Executive Officer of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois.

From health and safety classes, to supporting local military members, their families and veterans, to lifesaving blood collection, and reconnecting families torn apart by international conflict, the Red Cross has helped make our community safer and more prepared for the next 100 years.

Yet, the Red Cross historically is best known as part of the world’s largest humanitarian network that helps people in times of emergency through our army of volunteers, giving people food, shelter and comfort when they need it most.

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Disaster Relief & Preparedness: “The Red Cross Was the One Constant Through This Entire Disaster”

Eastland Disaster 1915Our first local response was on July 24, 1915, just six weeks after the chapter was established, when the Eastland Steamship capsized in the Chicago River, taking 844 lives. The Red Cross was there to comfort families after this historic tragedy – a legacy of compassion that still carries on today.

From the 3 to 4 home fires volunteers respond to every day in our community, to floods in 1947, the tornadoes that hit Plainfield in 1990, and the most recent storms that struck Coal City and Sublette this year in June, and all the devastation before and in between.

The Red Cross is here to help after disasters of any size, ready to comfort those who lived through the experience like Jackie Jordan’s family in Fairdale in April who said the Red Cross was the “one constant” through the entire tornado disaster.

On the preparedness front, we’re installing thousands of smoke alarms in homes through our Home Fire Program to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, and we’re teaching kids how to prepare for emergencies through The Pillowcase Project, sponsored by Disney, through partnerships with local schools and community partners like the Chicago Police Department.

International Services: “I Am Alive”

A Chicago Trifecta – As a tribute to the work we carry out daily here at home in Chicago and around the world, we celebrated our 18840506432_58ebce64c0_oAnniversary Week in June during World Refugee Day in Daley Plaza. The celebration was extra sweet as we served up 500 slices of birthday cake, generously donated by another Chicago staple Portillo’s topped off with a same-day win of the Stanley Cup by hometown hockey team Chicago Blawkhawks.

Through our Restoring Family Links program, the Red Cross advocates for peopleOnesphore Ndaribitse from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan who are seeking to reconnect or keep in touch with their loved ones. Through this free and invaluable service, our caseworkers facilitated the exchange of thousands of messages between families separated by disaster and conflict.

Hearing the words “I am alive” from Onesphore on the Northside of Chicago to his family in Rwanda can mean the difference between peace of mind and despair for  loved ones a half a world away. 

Lifesaving Blood: “We Helped Save Six Lives Today”

To kick off our Centennial year, we held a 100th Anniversary Blood Drive at Union Station in January where 430 units of blood were collected. It was the largest single-day blood drive in our 16369445192_d87bd7bed2_oregion. If one pint of blood can save up to three lives, Chicago residents Mary Market, 69, and Mellisa Griesl, 24, who met in line to give blood, together helped save six through their blood donation.

We also recently opened our new biomed facility in our headquarters in the Illinois Medical District which is in close proximity to many area hospitals for local patients. The Red Cross supplies 40 percent of the nation’s blood, and thanks to our new technology and facility here, we can help distribute lifesaving blood to trauma victims, cancer patients, and children with sickle cell disease.

Health & Safety Training: “Never Be Afraid to Help Somebody.”

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Another way the Red Cross helps save lives is by teaching people the skills to perform CPR & First Aid, babysitting training, and water safety.

We train more than 88,000 local people these lifesaving skills each year – dating back to before 1953, when the Chicago Tribune, documented an aquatics training session in Glencoe, IL to help people with polio how to swim.

Over the next decades, the Red Cross has been the go-to source for information, skills and build confidence among those to act in an emergency, at home, in school and in the workplace.

ComEd employee Carlos Guevara put those skills to the test when he saved a life at his community’s church.  “Never be afraid to help somebody,” Carlos said. “Learn the basics of CPR and where you can apply it. You never know when, where and why you might need it.”

Supporting America’s Military Families: “They Were There for Us and We Need to Be There for Them”

Clara-Barton_1The true spirit of the Red Cross began on the front lines with founder Clara Barton, the Angel of the Battlefield, tending to wounded soldiers more than a century ago, and that legacy of serving our military continues today in Chicago.

From a Red Cross canteen in 1919 with soldiers in Grant Park photographed by the Chicago Tribune, to local volunteer Laura Landoe who serves in our “No Veteran Dies Alone” hospice program at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, the Red Cross cares for our veterans and service members.

Laura Landoe is a modern-day Clara Barton. She’s one of our on-call volunteers who provide comfort and care to veterans on their final journey. The compassion she gives to each of those dying veterans is extraordinary – at times she reads to them, sometimes she prays with them, and still other times she sings hymns for them.  She sits quietly holding their hand as they pass. “They were there for us and we need to be there for them,” said Laura.

“Sleeves Up. Hearts Open. All In:” Volunteers are the Heart of the Red Cross

Volunteers, like Laura Landoe, are the heart of the Red Cross. Very much ingrained with the City of Chicago from the start, some of the first local volunteers—our founding Board Members from 1915—reads like a list of street names, historical landmarks and successful companies that are still much aVolunteer Walt Disney 1919 part of the Chicago landscape today: Cyrus H. McCormick, Mrs. Potter Palmer, A.A. Sprague II, Mayor William Hale Thompson, Charles H. Wacker, and William Wrigley, Jr. to name a few.

Our current board members are also proud to carry on this legacy.

We’ve had a few other famous Chicago natives rise through the ranks in our volunteer corps, such as Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway.

From local volunteers like Nancy Brooks-Edison, who joined the Red Cross more than 50 years ago to newcomer Lazenia Adams, who responded to more than 100 home fires during her first year of service – we couldn’t accomplish all that we do without their care and compassion.

19119823286_64587bee30_oThey represent more than 90 percent of our workforce. Think if 90 percent of the people in your workplace showed up for work and didn’t get paid? That’s what our volunteers do every day when they’re called to comfort a family after a home fire in the middle of the night, or hold a dying veterans hand.

Its hard work, but our volunteers do it because they care about our community.

Thank you for celebrating this milestone with us. The Red Cross has been part of our community for 100 years, and with all the support of our volunteers, funding partners, and the community we can continue to serve for 100 more.

READY 100 CENTENNIAL SPONSORS  Centennial sponsors of the Red Cross in 2015 include: Chicago Community Trust, Otho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute, Schneider Electric, Ace Hardware, Allstate, Discover, Fresenius Kabi, Grainger, Gerald A. & Karen A. Kolschowsky, Kirkland & Ellis, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Navistar, PwC, USG, Aon, Baxter, BMO Harris Bank, Constellation Brands, C. Reed Parker, Deloitte, Fortune Brands, JLL, Nicor Gas, Oil-Dri, and UL.

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Story By: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

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