One of our long-time friends and volunteers, Robert Wahlgren, passed away on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. Upon receiving the news, the Red Cross family spent time reflecting on our wonderful shared memories of Bob. We were trained by him, we watched him respond to disasters with kindness and care, and we learned from his determination.
“Bob was always modest about his accomplishments, positive in his outlook, and made everyone feel welcome in his presence,” says Peg Gramas, who volunteered with Bob as part of the Disaster Action Team (the volunteers that respond to home fires, for example).
Bob was integral to the work at the Red Cross in his role as the County Volunteer Lead for our team in DuPage and Kane counties. He was also a highly active volunteer leader in our Disaster Action Team, mass care, and casework programs.
Betsy Johnson, who has worked in Disaster Services at various locations for 22 years, shadowed Bob on her first home fire response. She says there couldn’t have been a better way to begin.
“Despite the chaos of the fire, Bob presented the face of Red Cross with a countenance of confidence and care. Each family felt respected and listened to and helped,” recalls Betsy. “I remember Bob asking each family, ‘What do you need right now?’ He waited for each person to tell him what was most important at the moment, a technique that takes patience and gentle guidance, but gives each person the respect and dignity they need to start their own recovery.”
Howard Goldstein, another long-time Red Cross volunteer and friend of Bob’s says, “If not for Bob’s stories about his Red Cross experiences I don’t think I would have gotten involved in the first place.”
Bob was also the co-founder of Bridge Communities, a visionary non-profit providing housing and mentoring to homeless families.
“His knowledge of the housing market and his concern for the long term welfare of not only Red Cross clients, but everyone in need, was helpful in putting together a Long Term Recovery program,” says Howard.
Geoff Fishwick met Bob while responding to his first home fire. “I was in a hurry to interview my first client. Bob told me to be patient and take a seat,” remembers Geoff.
“Every 15 minutes I would say, ‘lets go see if we can talk to the client.’ After two hours of this, Bob took me aside and said, ‘You have to show more patience. You have to remember the trauma our clients go through. This man just lost his wife and his son, and his daughter is in the burn unit at Loyola. You need to show more compassion.’ Until that time I saw the Red Cross more as a job then a compassionate mission.”
Geoff recalls taking the next few hours to think about what Bob had said and reflecting on how his words of advice could make him a better person. “He changed my life,” says Geoff.
It is with a heavy heart that we reflect on all of the times he responded to a fire in the middle of the night, guided a family who lost everything through their long-term recovery, managed a shelter, worked the phones at a telethon, handed out food during a canteen response, and so much more.
“I’m so glad I learned from Bob first, and that our paths continued to cross over the next couple of years,” says Betsy. “Just three weeks ago we were discussing how Bob could lend a hand with onboarding new volunteers. I feel sad for the new volunteers who weren’t as lucky as I.”
Bob will be greatly missed by his Red Cross family.
To read more about Bob, please click here. A memorial celebration will be held on Saturday, November 12 at 4:30pm at MacAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage.