My turn: Some heroes don't get noticed

Posted: Friday, April 15, 2005

If someone were to ask you the definition of a hero, what would it be? A quick response might describe individuals who bravely step in to assist others, without thought to their own safety. On further reflection, we might include those in the health, education, and social services professions, who are also in the business of saving lives.

During the past couple of years I have had to continually redefine my own interpretation of the term. As I leave my position with the American Red Cross of Alaska, I am humbled by the variety of heroes I have had the pleasure to meet.

When the National Guard infantry unit was called to active duty, the Red Cross was honored to make a brief presentation to the soldiers and families at their pre-deployment orientation.

As I looked around the room at the families whose lives were being so dramatically altered, I was touched beyond words. The quiet strength within the soldiers themselves, the parents, the wives, and the children; the members of the unit who were being left behind, giving assurances to those departing that their families would be looked after; the employers who pledge to hold jobs for their return, all of them heroes.

There are heroes who never make the public eye, who quietly show up and pitch in to help, wherever needed. These include Tom Gemmell, chairman of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, and Ron Dippold, who was instrumental in developing the Red Cross into the organization it is today, and has taught classes for more than 40 years, accepting no compensation for his time.

The recent tsunami disasters brought out heroes simply too numerous to mention by name. One unforgettable example was the 89-year-old woman living in a modest mobile home, whose donation equaled half her annual retirement, yet would not let us publicly thank her.

Although it is little known, many communities in Southeast have long benefited from the generosity of one of our founding fathers, William David Gross. When Mr. Gross passed away in 1962, he established the William Daniel Gross Memorial Account in memory of his beloved son. For more than 40 years, proceeds from this trust greatly benefited not only the Red Cross, but many, many other worthwhile organizations. Although we have buildings and theatres that still bear the Gross name, in Juneau little is known of Reuben E. Crossett. Mr. Crossett owned the Pioneer Bar in Ketchikan. For years he practiced his own unique brand of philanthropy, establishing his legendary (men-only) Game Dinners. With no children of his own, Mr. Crossett left his estate in trust to benefit the children of Southeast Alaska.

Last year his generosity enabled us to teach health and safety classes to the children of Prince of Wales Island, Metlakatla, Wrangell and Ketchikan. The quiet heroism of William David Gross and Reuben E. Crossett will not be forgotten.

Lastly, I would like to salute all of my fellow non-profit agencies. Whether giving a voice to those who have none, supporting individuals and families, the archipelago, or the arts, you are all heroes. Juneau is a better place thanks to all of you.

• Kristine Harder is the outgoing financial development manager for the American Red Cross Southeast. She has been a Juneau resident since 1975.

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