Veteran becomes Red Cross volunteer

Story by Kathleen Todd for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region

Sharon Azan (Credit: ARC/LynetteNyman)

On  Veterans Day, the American Red Cross honors people like Sharon Azan.

In 1985, Sharon Azan was stationed in Naples, Italy, with the United States Air Force when she got a call from the American Red Cross. Five thousand miles away, Azan’s uncle had passed away, and her family contacted the Red Cross to relay an urgent message about his death.

It was that one phone call—all those years ago—that recently prompted Azan to connect with the American Red Cross in Minnesota. Now, she’s training to become a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer.

“I figured this was a good time for me to help someone else,” Azan says. “I am so appreciative of what the Red Cross does and what it stands for.”

For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has been hard at work supporting the men and women of the American armed forces. Today, no matter where American armed service members are in the world, the Red Cross is dedicated to delivering emergency communications messages through the American Red Cross Hero Care Network, which is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Minnesota State Veterans Day Celebration 2016 (Credit: ARC/LynetteNyman)

The Red Cross provides around 370,000 services each year to active-duty military, veterans, and their families—including more than 3,000 in Minnesota last fiscal year. In addition to emergency communications, the Minnesota Red Cross provides courses and workshops to help military families cope with life after deployments.

The Red Cross invites you to say “thanks” by signing and sending cards through Holidays for Heroes to U.S. military and veterans. Click here for information, including where cards to send cards, the program deadline, and other important guidelines for the cards.

Gardens and Art Bring Color and Life to Veterans

Veteran Bob Hilleshiem and Red Cross worker Mike Booth tend to a garden at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, July 24, 2013.
Veteran Bob Hilleshiem and Red Cross worker Mike Booth tend to a garden at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, July 24, 2013.

On a beautiful summer day, Bob Hilleshiem basks in the sun as he waters flowers and tomatoes in the garden at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis. 

“Growing up on a farm, my mother had three gardens that I tended to,” says Hilleshiem, a current patient at the VA hospital.  “I like keeping an eye on the progress the plants make each day.”

Hillsheim is one of many veterans who are able to enjoy the outdoors by cultivating flowers and vegetables in the gardens at the VA Hospital and the Minnesota Veterans Home, also in Minneapolis.

The Veterans Home in Minneapolis received garden supplies from the Red Cross via a Department of Defense grant for direct patient support, July 24, 2013.

“The veterans and their families appreciate the gardens as a place to get out and enjoy nature,” says Shirlee Peterson, Director of Recreation Therapy at the Veterans Home.  “It’s therapeutic for them to get fresh air, dig in the dirt and feel the sun on a nice day.”

The American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program donated the gardening supplies to the veterans hospital and home. Funding for the donation came from a U.S. Federal Government grant of $4,500 for direct patient support for veterans.

Red Cross worker Mike Booth visits with veteran Harold Palm at the Minnesota Veterans Home garden in Minneapolis, July 24, 2013.
Red Cross worker Mike Booth visits with veteran Harold Palm at the Minnesota Veterans Home garden in Minneapolis, July 24, 2013.

The VA Hospital and Veterans Home were given planters of flowers, peas, tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs, strawberries, mint, and rhubarb.  In addition, the Red Cross provided special ergonomic tools and plentiful amounts of soil. 

The Red Cross also used the grant money to buy art supplies for the VA Hospital in Minneapolis and the Veterans Home in Silver Bay, MN. The art supplies– such as oven-baked clay, painting materials, and model cars– will be used in art therapy programs for the veterans.

“These types of therapy give veterans a chance to use both motor skills and creativity,” says Angie Erickson, an art therapist at the VA Hospital. “All of the supplies are being put to great use and are very generous.”

Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military members and their families. Story and photos by Shannon Lewis, Communications Intern, American Red Cross Northern Minnesota Region. 

“Gray Lady” Uniform Preserves Red Cross History

"If you keep busy and volunteer, you stay alive a little longer," says Terry Dugger, 80, who served as a Red Cross volunteer from 1968 to 1970. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Among the treasures Terry Dugger has kept through the decades is a uniform that she wore as a Red Cross volunteer at the military hospital on Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska.

“We saw the fellas coming in from motorcycle accidents. I went to different rooms and passed out shaving equipment, playing cards, and other things like that. There wasn’t anybody else on the base to do it,” she says.

Dugger’s Red Cross uniform is different from those the Gray Lady Service volunteers used during World Wars I and II. This has blue and white pin stripes. Worn for only two years and in excellent condition, the uniform is now a gift from Dugger as a means to share and preserve Red Cross history.

A "Gray Lady" volunteer uniform circa 1960s preserves Red Cross history. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Dugger, who was an air force wife for twenty years, did volunteer work when her six children were in school, serving in the Red Cross from 1968-70. Now 80 years old, Dugger still shares valuable time doing a variety of volunteer activities.

“I couldn’t wait until I got old and now I’m too old, but rather than sit home I want to get out and help people.”

Being a volunteer has given—and continues to provide—Dugger with a greater sense of purpose. Currently, she’s a volunteer at the Armed Forces Service Center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

In the late 1960s, Terry Dugger served as a Red Cross volunteer at the military hospital on Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. Photo credit: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Dugger attended Saint Mark’s elementary school, located a couple blocks from her residence for thirty years. Growing up, both of her parents worked so she often tended to the “roomers” they had to help pay bills. Dugger says that the experience taught her to be independent, a characteristic she cherishes so much that she would never consider getting herself a boyfriend.

“Are you kidding!?! I had a good husband. I can do what I want. I can eat ice cream for breakfast. I’ve got a lot of things to do,” she says.

Dugger also has no use, she says, for a computer or a cell phone. Instead, she looks forward to getting letters from the postal service everyday.

She advises everyone, including her 40 or so grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, to stay busy throughout life.

“If you keep busy and volunteer, you stay alive a little longer.”

Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross, Northern Minnesota Region