Red Cross chapter celebrates 90 years

By DONNA WRIGHT / Bradenton Herald


Ninety years ago, members of the Women's Club of Bradenton helped charter the first Manatee County chapter of the American Red Cross.

The date was Nov. 3, 1917, and those first volunteers, dressed in nurses' caps and official uniforms, were busy rolling bandages and making pillows to aid the injured and battle-weary fighting in World War I.

On Tuesday, Red Cross volunteers wearing some of those uniforms greeted guests who gathered at Bradenton Auditorium to celebrate the local chapter's 90th anniversary.

Dressed in an appropriately bright-red jacket, Bobbie Larson, the chapter's newly appointed executive director, celebrated the donors and volunteers who have helped the Manatee chapter become one of the most recognized in the nation in terms of community service.

And the tradition of community service will continue, Larson said, through the launch of the chapter's new Community Partners Pro- gram.

To qualify as a community partner, a business or organization must support the Red Cross in at least two of the following areas: provide a Red Cross safety program for employees, provide volunteers, participate in the annual Tribute to Heroes program, offer in-kind services or give financial support.

Larson announced Woodruff & Sons, a local construction company that holds Red Cross training programs for employees, is the chapter's first community partner.

Bruce Body, who serves on the Red Cross board, announced the first donation to the chapter's new endowment fund that, if successful, will cover the cost of operating the chapter.

Larson paid special tribute to her predecessors, Roberta Omlor and Ruth Duncan, who together provided more than 60 years of leadership for the local chapter.

"Can you believe it - 90 years - and I was there for 20, the best years because that's when all of the growth occurred," Duncan said.

In the early days, the chapter functioned in seven branches spread throughout the county because of Manatee's scattered population and lack of transportation.

As the county grew, the Red Cross found its permanent home in the chapter headquarters on 59th Street West in Bradenton.

In 2000, those headquarters more than doubled in size, incorporating a safe room designed to serve as a command post during hurricanes. The thick walls are built to withstand winds topping 180 miles an hour.

Then, through a gift of land from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the Red Cross expanded eastward to Lakewood Ranch, opening the mid-county chapter office in June 2006.

"You can have the best volunteers in the world but it takes another element - money," Omlor said. "Over the years, we got a lot better at writing grants."

Jim Burnham, pastor at Grace Baptist Church, paid tribute to the values that underscore the Red Cross mission, which his congregation helps support.

"Sometimes people ask, 'Why is a church supporting the Red Cross?' " Burnham said. "The philosophy of this organization embraces the tenets of our faith - to do for others what we would want them to do for us."

First Manatee branch formed to help those hurt in World War I

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