By Grace Thompson, American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter
For many, it’s hard to remember the hot days of the Minnesota State Fair this time of year, but for Muriel Olson the smell of corn dogs and the sounds of the “great Minnesota get together” are vivid as she reflects upon her last 50 years of service with the American Red Cross.
Muriel’s story began in 1956 when she was asked by her school’s nursing program director to volunteer for the American Red Cross booth at the state fair. “It was minimal work, washing people’s feet and dressing blisters.”
Little did she know, this agreement would begin a remarkable span of years sharing her time and talent with the American Red Cross, for which she was recognized this past year with a 50-year service pin.
“I didn’t really choose [volunteering for the American Red Cross], it kind of just happened and it never stopped. I don’t plan on it stopping anytime soon!”
As a recent volunteer with the American Red Cross (or as Muriel might call me, a “newbie”) I was both honored and excited by the chance to interview the Red Cross veteran. I naturally had all kinds of questions I wanted to ask her—such as how many disasters have you responded to (“too many to count”), why do you continue to volunteer (“because I love helping people”), and was there any experience that was particularly meaningful for you (“the embrace of a family member who suffered the loss of their home to a fire”).
She kindly replied to all of my questions and also offered three nuggets of wisdom I’m excited to pass along:
1. “Be passionate about helping people”
To Muriel, this is the most important quality of a Red Cross Volunteer. The reason why the American Red Cross makes a difference is because its volunteers show compassion to every person, regardless of who they are or what his or her circumstances may be. “Even if it is a single-family fire, it’s a disaster to them. Sometimes they just need people to help them- whether it be filling out paperwork, or sitting with them.”
2. “Be willing to adapt to changes”
Muriel enthusiastically expanded upon this, “if there is one thing I can tell you, volunteering with the American Red Cross will never be boring! There is always something new to learn or some challenges to overcome… you are responding to disasters, disasters by nature are never planned.” According to Muriel, the power of the American Red Cross is its ability to offer relief in the midst of uncertainly.
3. “Be ready to work as a team, and to make life-long friends.”
Muriel attributes much of her achievement to the supportive Red Cross community. “I have been able to volunteer and remain positive throughout these last 50 years because of he wonderful friends I have made. The American Red Cross is filled with people of every skill and generation.” This diversity is seen in the classroom where Muriel teaches Disaster Medical Assistance to the “next generation” of Red Cross volunteers. For Muriel, the opportunity to see young volunteers dedicate their time and skills gives her hope for the future of the American Red Cross. “It is a volunteer run organization, without these newbies…[and] without this community, we wouldn’t have a Red Cross.”
In many ways, Muriel’s first actions as an American Red Cross volunteer are symbolic of her continued benevolence over these past 50 years. It’s because of people like Muriel that the American Red Cross, a volunteer-led organization, continues to make an inspiring impact on the world. The Red Cross is grateful for Muriel’s years of service and Muriel hopes her story encourages others to, in turn, “use their skills and talents to help people.”
Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.