Volunteer with the Red Cross Illinois River Valley Chapter Discovers Treasures from the Past

These days Red Cross volunteer Kathy Ford might be mistaken for Indiana Jones, with some minor differences. Instead of wearing a fedora, Ford sports a baseball cap. And, her archeological finds aren’t in some far away land, they’re at the Illinois River Valley office in Romeoville.

Two years ago, Ford came across a treasure trove of Red Cross artifacts when she was clearing out a chapter office. Among all the old computers and office furniture, Ford spied a plastic bag stuffed with items. Reaching inside she pulled out a jumpsuit uniform once worn by a Red Cross nurse in the 1970s. Digging deeper, she found something even older: nurse uniforms from World War II.

WWII nurse uniforms

“I’m nosy. I can’t help myself,” says Ford as she discovered even more items including a steamer chest filled with scrapbooks, photographs and old newspaper clippings about the Illinois Red Cross. 

Volunteer Kathy Ford looking at a scrapbook
1954 Northern Illinois tornado aftermath

Many of Ford discoveries are now on display in a conference room at the Illinois River Valley chapter office in Romeoville office for the American Red Cross. The rest are still in a storage room, waiting to be exhibited. Among the finds: a hand-knit military sweater from the 1940s, full page newspaper advertisements about the Red Cross, a tiny handmade nurse doll that might have been pinned to a uniform and photos of a devastating tornado that swept through northern Illinois in 1954. My personal favorite is Red Cross nurse Winifred Bally’s passport during World War II. It has stamps from Iran, Egypt and Brazil.  “This is our history,” explains Ford. “When people see these things, they form an attachment to history, and it keeps them coming back.”

Handmade nurse doll
Red Cross nurse Winifred Bally’s WWII passport
Hand-knit military sweater

Ford and Illinois River Valley Executive Director Brian McDaniel want the historic display to extend into the future. They’re also planning to post pictures of current volunteers in action, along with photos of Red Cross Heroes. “We have over a century of heritage. You don’t want to forget about it,” says McDaniel.

Full page newspaper ad from 1940s

The Illinois River Valley Chapter welcomes help from an artist or an art student who could assist with a display wall in the Romeoville chapter office.  For more information contact McDaniel at brian.mcdaniel2@redcross.org.

Written by Red Cross Communications Volunteer Diane Eastabrook

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