Being “Right There” for Our Neighbors: Margarethe’s Story

Story by Scott Morton

Margarethe Rosa Reb (right) stands near a cleanup crew at her Kentwood Home. The 88 year-old resident said she never expected to experience a twister in Michigan.

Margarethe Rosa Reb (right) stands near a cleanup crew at her Kentwood Home. The 88 year-old resident said she never expected to experience a twister in Michigan.

Amid the uprooted trees, downed telephone poles, and branches and debris still piled around her neighborhood lives 88 year-old Margarethe Rosa Reb. She was in her Kentwood home on the night of July 6 when an EF1 tornado cut through Kentwood, Wyoming, and southeast Grand Rapids leaving six people injured and hundreds of homes damaged.


The tornado struck at 10:20 that night knocking out Reb’s electricity along with about 20,000 other Consumers Energy customers.  Reb says she never thought she’d experience a twister. To this day she hasn’t actually seen one since the tornado struck at night.


“I was sitting by the table and all of the sudden the lights went out and I got a flashlight,” she says.  “I got dressed in case anything happened because I had my night gown on…all I heard was a whoosh going through.”


The next morning at day break, she and her grandson Nick walked around the three bedroom house to see the storm damage.


“It was a mess. It was terrible!” Reb added. “You couldn’t see over to the next house there were so many branches and leaves piled up.”


Later that morning, two American Red Cross volunteers visited Reb and provided her with food, cleaning supplies, financial assistance and, best of all, someone to talk with.


“The Red Cross was really helpful. God bless them all!”


Rosa Reb4

Reb’s home surrounded by downed trees and branches from the tornado on July 6. The storm damaged hundreds of homes and injured six.

A few days later Reb’s power returned. The day that she spoke with us about her experience a cleanup crew for the damage around her home was finishing up for the day.


Reflecting on the experience, the long-time widow puts the ordeal in perspective.


“It was kind of scary, but I’ve been through worse!”


Still, she says the fact that two American Red Cross volunteers checked on her and provided aid makes her thankful to this day.


“I never thought people would be so nice.  I never thought I’d meet so many nice people.  They were right there!”


You can help people like Margarethe affected by disasters like floods, fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. To make a financial contribution, visit, text REDCROSS to 90999, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.



Witnessing Disaster, Discovering Hope: Alyx’s Story


May 3, 2014. Mayflower, Arkansas. Red Cross emergency response vehicles (ERVs) delivered cleanup kits, rakes, shovels, gloves, garbage bags, tarps as well as snacks and water to residents and workers cleaning up after the tornado. Photo by Jason Colston / American Red Cross

Mayflower, Arkansas. Red Cross emergency response vehicles (ERVs) delivered cleanup kits, rakes, shovels, gloves, garbage bags, tarps as well as snacks and water to residents and workers cleaning up after the tornado. Photo by Jason Colston / American Red Cross

Story by Allie Weston


During severe storms in early May, many small towns in the Midwest were crippled by violent storms. Baxter Springs, Kansas was right in the path of several tornadoes and suffered a large-scale damage. Once the storm passed, the American Red Cross was on the ground ready to help the community. Alyx Dean, volunteer services associate with the American Red Cross of West Michigan, went to Baxter Springs to help the people affected by the storms.

Upon her arrival, Dean witnessed terrible destruction. The tornadoes displaced almost all of the 4,200 citizens of Baxter Springs from their homes.

“It was crazy to see all the damage,” Dean explained. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.” Many homes, as well as the town’s few stores, were demolished. The tornadoes destroyed the only grocery store and gas station. While surveying the damage, Dean recalls seeing cement steps that had once led up to the entrance to a house.

“There used to be a home there,” Dean said she realized. “People used to walk up those steps every day.” Seeing the damage showed her just how much she needed to help these people that had lost their houses, the places that they had come home to each day.

Dean, along with other Red Cross volunteers, set to work to help the people of Baxter Springs. A multi-agency resource center (M.A.R.C.) was set up in order to connect people with resources to help get them back on their feet. Dean was a client case worker at the M.A.R.C. She met with people, listened to their stories, and connected them with the resources that they needed.

“It was really touching to be able to help people when they didn’t have anything or anywhere else to go,” Dean said.

Many of the people she spoke with really touched Dean. Hearing their stories gave a face to all the destruction she saw. One woman that was reluctant to receive help finally opened up once she met Dean. The woman’s son had convinced her to go to the Multi-Agency Resource Center (M.A.R.C.), and it was there that she met Dean.

“I touched her hand,” she said. “And she just broke down and started crying and gave me a hug. She was so grateful because she hadn’t admitted to anyone before that she couldn’t do it by herself.”

Slowly but surely, with the help of the Red Cross, the Baxter Springs community started to get on its feet. Debris was cleared from the streets, citizens received help at the M.A.R.C., and people rediscovered hope. Thanks to volunteers like Dean, the citizens of Baxter Springs were well on their way to recovery.

Being “Family Strong”: Linda’s Story


Linda Curtis (left) alongside her husband, Dick (Right), and son Ryan (center). The Curtis family called on the Red Cross for help in March after the passing of Ryan’s grandmother.

Story by Jon Breems

The strength of a family is tested and, perhaps, never more important than when a close family member passes. On March 19, the Curtis family, of Hastings, MI, learned of their grandmother’s passing in nearby Lansing. Linda Curtis, along with her husband and daughter, needed to start making plans for her mother-in-law’s funeral.

One of Linda’s toughest hurdles in preparing for the funeral was whether or not her immediate family could be together for the service. Linda’s son, Ryan, was stationed with the Marines nearly 1,000 miles away in Mississippi. Ryan had been on two tours of duty, including one in Afghanistan, and was now studying to join the Marine aviation program. Linda called her son that day and asked him what he wanted to do about the funeral.

“He (Ryan) wanted to come home for his dad because he knows the importance of being ‘family strong’,” said Curtis. “He told me to call Red Cross.”

The next morning, Linda contacted her local Red Cross to use the Emergency Messaging Service and, hopefully, have her son return home. The Red Cross then contacted Ryan’s commanding officer in Mississippi to request an official leave of absence so Ryan could attend the funeral. By that evening, Ryan was cleared to come home.

“I was so thrilled…he (Ryan) had a flight by that night,” said Curtis  “It was a blessing that he was able to come home and get closure where he could say goodbye to her (his grandmother).”

The next day, Ryan was on a flight home to reunite with his grieving family and say farewell to his grandmother. He attended the funeral that weekend alongside his mother, father, sister, and wife—a former marine herself.

Like the marines, the Curtis family knows the importance of sticking together. Every day the American Red Cross ensures that during life’s most trying circumstances military families, like the Curtis family, can be at each other’s side and find comfort in being ‘family strong’.

“I thank Red Cross for reaching out and being there for us—especially my husband and especially for Ryan” said Curtis. “I’m just very grateful to Red Cross…it all worked out perfectly.”

If you would like more information on the Red Cross of West Michigan Service to the Armed Forces, visit or contact Sarah Day at – (616) 498-6102.

Summer is 100 days of high dives, ball games, and barbecues

Summer is 100 days of high dives, ball games, and barbecues. It’s 100 ways to dress a burger, catch some shade, or get out of town. It’s 100 chances to clear the calendar for what’s most important.

Over the course of the summer, there are 100 chances to give hope to patients in need by donating blood or platelets through the American Red Cross. Choose your day to help save up to three lives.

During the summer months of June, July and August, on average, about two fewer donors give blood at every American Red Cross blood drive than hospital patients need. If at least two more donors gave blood at every Red Cross blood drive this summer – above what’s expected – patients would be better assured of having lifesaving blood products readily available to them.

Be sure a blood donation with the Red Cross is on your summer to do list. Donating is quick and easy, and like all good things this time of year, it’s worth celebrating! Make your donation appointment today at or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

58 Years as An American Red Cross Nurse: Honoring Maureen Campbell


Story by Marjorie Steele



Maureen Campbell, 80, shows off her Red Cross nursing attire. Campbell has been volunteering with the American Red Cross since 1957.

The American Red Cross is powered by the generosity of its volunteers, and few people embody this spirit of volunteership more than Maureen Campbell. This year marks Maureen’s 58th year volunteering as a Red Cross nurse. At 80 years young, Maureen has volunteered for the American Red Cross for nearly three quarters of her life, and her service has made a positive impact on countless lives.


Maureen first began volunteering as a Red Cross nurse in 1957, in Ohio’s Franklin County Blood Donation Center. She graduated from Ohio State University the year earlier with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Maureen became interested in the Red Cross after she and her boyfriend received an award for collectively donating one gallon of blood. Intrigued by the Red Cross’positivity and willingness to reward volunteership, and eager to put her degree as a Registered Nurse to work, Maureen became a Red Cross Nurse and never looked back.


Over the years, Maureen worked as a nurse in public health settings, for North American Aviation, and eventually as the Assistant Director of Nurses at Saugatuck’s Dunes Correctional Facility. She also raised six children. Throughout her career, both as a nurse and a mother, Maureen never gave up her volunteership as a Red Cross Nurse.


“It was such an important part of my life,”Maureen says, thinking back. “It never occurred to me NOT to volunteer.”


Maureen proudly keeps the pin and white cap she was given when she first enlisted as a Red Cross Nurse. “I remember being told, when I was given that pin, that I couldn’t be buried in it – that I’d have to give it back to the organization! I was only in my twenties, and I remember being so amused by that thought. It was such an honor to receive those – my pin, and my ‘whites’. Now, I have several pins, and I’m glad that I’m allowed to keep them all!”


In the early 60’s, when auto manufacturers were first considering installing seatbelts and the safety of Maureen’s own young children was at the top of her mind, she began advocating heavily for the nationwide implementation of safety harnesses in cars. In recognition of her work, Maureen was invited to state dinners, and received awards honoring her advocacy – work which she emphasizes she never would have had the courage to do if it had not been for her work with the Red Cross.


Over the last few decades, Maureen has been a faithful volunteer nurse with the medical crew at Holland’s Tulip Time festivities. She recalls countless memorable moments over the years, including one comic moment when a dancer’s wooden shoe flew off during a performance and landed on an unfortunate spectator’s head. The spectator, luckily, suffered no injuries.


Maureen recalls how her expertise as a Red Cross nurse has been invaluable over the years. One year at Tulip Time, a woman fell out of the stand, and Maureen was concerned the woman had injured her hip. The ambulance crew determined she had no injuries and released her back to the festival, but she was still in pain. Maureen asked her own mother to come pick the woman up and bring her home, where she could wait comfortably for a bus. The patient later called to report back that she had gone in to the emergency room again, and the doctors had found her hip was fractured.


“It just goes to show that a Red Cross Nurse knows what they’re doing!”Maureen laughs, recalling the event.



Campbell, center holding banner, marches in May’s Tulip Time Festival Parade. Maureen was honored at the parade for her 58 years of service.

In 1999, Maureen received a Health & Safety Volunteer of the Year Award from Ottawa County’s Red Cross. During last month’s Tulip Time Saturday Parade, Maureen was honored for her 58 years of service with the American Red Cross. Instead of riding in the Red Cross van, Maureen insisted on walking the entire two mile march in front, proudly holding the Red Cross banner, with her 50 year service pin on display.


“People don’t understand, there’s a new 80!”says Maureen, who prefers the terms “elder”or “elder-like”to “elderly”. A breast cancer survivor, Maureen insists on staying active – which includes volunteering for the Red Cross for as long as she is able. She doesn’t plan on relinquishing her role as a Red Cross Nurse anytime soon.



“My 50 year volunteer pin has a genuine ruby to celebrate that 50th anniversary, so I expect my 75 year volunteer pin will have a diamond. I suppose I’ll just have to stick around another 18 years, so I can get that diamond!”


From left to right, Maureen’s 10-year, 15-year, and 50-year Red Cross service pins proudly on display. She wants to stay with the Red Cross so she can receive the 75-year pin.

Stay Safe This Summer With Our New Swim App!


West Michigan has no shortage of places to enjoy the water this summer. From the golden dunes of Lake Michigan beaches to rivers, creeks, and backyard pools, it seems that everywhere we turn there is an opportunity for some aquatic fun. However, with all of this fun comes the responsibility to make sure we and our loved ones can safely enjoy the water this summer.


ImageThe new American Red Cross Swim App allows us to do just that. The free, multipurpose app available for iPhone, Android, and
Kindle Fire users enables parents and caregivers to track their child’s progress through Red Cross swim lessons, access important water safety information, and entertain children with fun videos and quizzes.


Parents aren’t the only ones who can use the app, either. There are fun videos and quizzes designed teach kids the importance of being safe around the water. It is important to note that the Swim App is not meant to be a replacement for Red Cross swimming lessons but, rather, a complement to them.


Other key features of the Red Cross Swim App include:

  • Progress tracker for goals achieved in swimming lessons
  • Stroke videos and performance charts to help with proper techniques
  • “Help your Child Progress” activities that reinforce what is covered in lessons
  • Water safety and drowning prevention information for parents on a variety of aquatic environments including beaches, pools, lakes, and rivers
  • Achievement badges to share on social media


A recent survey, conducted by the Red Cross, showed that we tend to think of ourselves as better swimmers than we actually are. The survey found that while 80 percent of Americans said that they could swim, only 56 percent of swimmers can perform all five of the basic skills that could save their life in the water.


swimappinfographicThese critical water safety skills, also known as “water competency,” are the ability to: step or jump into the water over your head; return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute; turn around in a full circle and find an exit; swim 25 yards to the exit; and exit from the water. If in a pool, you must be able to exit without using the ladder.


Every day, an average of 10 people die in the U.S. from unintentional drowning – 20 percent of them are children aged 14 or younger, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and sixth for people of all ages.


These statistics aren’t meant to scare us from the pool; instead, they should serve as a reminder of the importance of taking steps to stay safe in the water this summer. The Red Cross Swim App is a great place first step to take, and it only takes seconds to download—that’s a step we all have time for these days.


People can download the app for free in the Apple App Store, Google Play Store for Androidor Amazon Kindle Storeby searching for American Red Cross or by going to

8 Things that are Older and Younger than the American Red Cross (As we celebrate our 133rd birthday)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! The American Red Cross turns 133 years old today and we’re celebrating in West Michigan by sharing some of the things that have been around before.. or after 1881. During this gathering process, I’ll admit, someone said to me “Is there anything older than the Red Cross?” We have been around a long time, but not THAT long! Here’s a look at some of our predecessors, followed by a few who are a bit younger than the Red Cross.


1. Harvard University – This Ivy League was founded on September 8, 1636, making it about 2 centuries older than the American Red Cross and 140 years older than the United States of America.

Chocolate Image Gallery

2. The First Chocolate Easter Egg – It’s hard to imagine an Easter Sunday without this staple, but the first chocolate Easter egg didn’t make its appearance until 1875. Cadbury released its first line of chocolate Easter eggs that year, which were hollow and filled with sugared almonds. That also makes the Cadbury company older than the American Red Cross. It was founded in 1824 in the United Kingdom.

3. The Telephone – Like many inventions, the exact year and inventor of the telephone can be debated, however credit is often given to Alexander Graham Bell as he was the first person to receive a patent for the device in 1876. Who knew these would eventually also turn into calculators, calendars, and blog reading devices?!

4. The World’s Oldest Tortoise - Meet 182-year-old Jonathan. He’s a Seychelles giant tortoise who is nearly 50 years OLDER than the American Red Cross. Jonathan lives on the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where his image is on the back side of the local 5 pence coin. While he’s definitely old, he’s doesn’t quite have the record for living the longest but he’s getting there. The all-time verified record holder for oldest tortoise, according to Guinness World Records, is Tui Malila who died in 1965 at the age of 189. Come on, Jonathan! Just 8 more years to go!


1. Sliced Bread – You’ve heard it said before: “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!” but the American Red Cross has actually been around 47 years longer than sliced bread! The first package was sold in 1928, when the American Red Cross was already 47 years old. And an interesting fact I found during my research… did you know sliced bread was banned in 1943 in the U.S.? It was part of a wartime conservation measure but it didn’t last long. Just about a month and a half, actually. Thank goodness!


2. World’s Oldest Car – So this may not come as much of a surprise, however, I was pretty amazed at how close this one was! The oldest car in the world was actually produced in 1884 in France. Just 3 years behind the founding of the American Red Cross in 1881. It’s called the La Marquise and runs on coal, wood, and scraps of paper. Top speed: 38 mph, but give yourself lots of time; it takes 30-40 minutes for the car to build up enough steam to run. The car is still around today. In fact, in 2011 it sold for a record price at $4.6 million.





3. Johnson & Johnson – From Band-Aids, to Listerine, to baby shampoo… Johnson & Johnson is probably the best known first aid-type brand in the country. They’ve been around since 1887, 6 years after the founding of the American Red Cross, and you may notice the Red Cross on their packaging. They have special rights to use the emblem since they trademarked it before 1905. The Red Cross symbol is now protected by U.S. law for the use of the American Red Cross and the U.S. military.

4. The Hershey’s Kiss – Apparently I was in a chocolatey mood when I wrote this (see chocolate easter eggs), but with this being such a popular candy I just couldn’t leave it out! The Hershey’s Kiss was invented in 1907, when the American Red Cross was just entering its mid-20’s. This was actually Milton Hershey’s first chocolate concoction; before that he was a caramel-making guy. It wasn’t until 1928 that the kisses were miniaturized and transformed into chocolate chips and it took another 11 years for those to be incorporated into cookies – making the first chocolate chip cookie coming to existence in 1938.

Who wants some milk? Cheers to the American Red Cross and here’s to another 133 years of humanitarian efforts!




A Small Piece of History Returns

The following story was written by Chuck Miller, a writer and photographer for the online news site Mr. Miller recently purchased an old camera on ebay, and, in doing some research, found this particular camera had a rich history tied to the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids. Mr. Miller has since sent the camera back to its home at the Red Cross office in Grand Rapids where it’s now displayed among other artifacts from the chapter’s history. The following are excerpts from two articles Mr. Miller wrote about the camera and it’s connection to the Red Cross. You can read Mr. Miller’s full articles about the camera here and here.

Story by Chuck Miller

ImageAt first glance, this little black camera looks like a tiny, worn-out shooter from a hundred years ago.  But upon closer examination, the camera’s black paint coating contains scribbles and etchings, with cities and locations and dates, similar to location decals on an old steamer trunk.  Bordeaux, France.  Liverpool, England.  Camp Custer.  Camp Genicart.  Camp Merritt.  S.S. Ascania.  S.S. Chicago.

It took a while to sort through this camera’s history.  What did it see?  What images might it have captured?  What journey could this camera have taken?

All I had was some etched locations and dates.  There wasn’t even a roll of film inside the little Kodak.

But, in all honesty, those etched dates might have contained all the information I needed…


This particular camera was manufactured at the Kodak plant in Rochester, New York, and was later purchased by Frank D. Row, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to this website, Row may have been one of several Kent County residents to help establish a military hospital in France…

ImageYou can see the name “Frank D. Row”, along with “Hospital Unit Q” and “U.S.A.,” all carefully carved and scraped and etched into the camera back, all engraved in the largest flat area the camera provided.  He even added serifs and periods to the letters “U.S.A.”  As the camera traveled through the theater of war, more names and locations were etched in whatever flat space the camera provided…

Thanks to one of the engravings, we know that from May 11 to May 21, the camera traveled on the Ascania. The R.M.S. Ascania was originally built in 1911 for the Cunard line, and sailed from Canada to England and back every two weeks. The Ascania‘s normal cargo were Canadian soldiers, who were on their way to France to fight for King and Country. In May 1918, the Ascania carried the U.S. 119th infantry from Hoboken to Liverpool. On May 26, the Ascania suffered damage from a German submarine attack; but was still able to make it to Liverpool on May 27, 1918.

There’s also an engraving of “S.S. Chicago.” There was a transport ship by that name; it was part of a convoy near Floamborough Head in England, when it was sunk by a German torpedo on July 8, 1918. Three men died in that attack; I don’t have enough information handy as to whether Frank D. Row was either on the ship, or whether he knew anybody from that ship.

The camera rear says “Camp Merritt, 5/3/18, 4/27/19.”  Camp Merritt in New Jersey was the point where tens of thousands of soldiers were stationed before they traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to the theater of war.  The soldier must have spent at least part of May 1918 at Camp Merritt; and made his way back from the theater of war in April of 1919…


This camera belongs back with its unit.  Specifically, as soon as I make contact with the organization, I’m shipping it to the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Red Cross.    It’s part of their history and it’s part of their heritage.  It’s because of men like Frank D. Row, that the American Red Cross of Kent County organized and helped establish a medical facility in the theater of war; a medical facility that assisted thousands of injured soldiers on the battlefields of France…

Last week, I told the story of the little Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic camera whose previous owner served in World War I.  After I documented the camera’s individual history, I contacted the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids, and asked if they would be interested in the camera as part of their historic archives.

They were extremely pleased with the idea.

Last Friday, after taking a couple more shots of the camera for my own archival purposes, I packed the little Kodak (and its carrying beltloop case) in a mailer and shipped it off to Michigan.

camera3And sure enough… some final pictures of the camera in its new home.

This is cool.  Way cool.  The little Vest Pocket Autographic is now on display with other artifacts from the Grand Rapids Red Cross’ history.

And what a journey that camera has taken.  One hundred years ago, it was just a collection of metal parts and a glass lens, all assembled in a Rochester, New York camera plant.  It was purchased by a soldier in Grand Rapids – Frank Damon Row – and later traveled with him, documented all the way, to England and France, then returned home.  After Row passed away in 1966, it traveled some more – eventually ending up in an eBay auctioneer’s catalog near Fort Worth, Texas.  That’s when I bought it and it made another journey, this time to the Town and Village of Green Island.  One week later, it returned home once again to Grand Rapids.

A one-hundred-year journey.  Now the camera can retire.

And not on my camera retirement shelf.  It now gets to retire with other artifacts from the Great War.

Totally awesome all around.

Life-Saving Transplant, Life-Saving Trips: John’s Story

Story by Scott Morton


John Knapp’s life changed the day that he found out that he had kidney failure due to years of diabetes and high blood pressure that he’ll admit he neglected. Like thousands of Americans, Knapp signed up for the the National Kidney Registry hoping for a donor. One year ago doctors found one for him. He was overjoyed that he would no longer have to endure kidney dialysis three times a week; each time hooked to a machine for four hours. “It takes a lot out you,” Knapp says. “They say it’s equivalent to running a 26 mile marathon.”


John Knapp stands beside his daughter Andrea who donated one of her kidneys to her father in February. The transplant helped improve John’s quality of life tremendously.


The 55 year-old Rockford native relied on his then 73 year-old neighbor to get him to the clinic a few miles away from his home and  his wife Debbie to pick him up. But after six months, Debbie received training to perform dialysis on John at home. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today,” he says. Performing kidney dialysis daily improved not only John’s quality of life, but his chances of survival since the nearly one hundred pound machine filtered the toxins out of John’s blood more frequently.


Two weeks before the surgery doctors did an biopsy of John’s donor’s kidney and learned that she had Berger’s Disease and couldn’t be a donor.


For four months his 22 year-old daughter Andrea saw how difficult it was for her mother to care for John in between working ten hours and raising a 13 year-old son. In February, Andrea found out that she could donate a kidney to her father. “We were jumping up and down when they called that we were a match,” she says. “It was the last chance for us because it gave us hope.”


John knows how fortunate he is as month after month he’d hear of people at the dialysis clinic that he went to dying for lack of a kidney donor even though more than six thousand living donors in the United States donate kidneys every year without risk. “I’m blessed,” John says. “It’s all been God’s purpose.”


Now John gets help from the American Red Cross to and from doctor’s appointments for infusions of a drug that keeps his body from rejecting his daughter’s kidney. “Thank God for the Red Cross,” he says. “Kathy’s such a super lady. She really helped me up.” Kathy is the transportation coordinator for the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids.


In 2013, the Red Cross Transportation Services in Kent County drove clients more than 394,000 miles.


Knapp is just one of more than 1,200 clients who receive transportation services from Red Cross volunteer drivers in Kent County each year. In 2013, about 100 volunteers drove more than 394,000 miles to get qualified residents to and from important appointments. That’s enough to go around the world sixteen times.


To learn more about the Transportation Services program at the Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids, visit

Hometown Heroes 2014 Profiles: A Passion for the Community: Jamie Mills

This week we continue our series of blog posts highlighting the awards recipients for the 2014 Hometown Heroes Celebration hosted by the American Red Cross of West Michigan. Each year the American Red Cross celebrates the community heroes who inspire us through their commitment to service and their recognition of the humanity of their neighbors down the street, across the country, and around the world. The event will be held on Thursday, May 1 from 6:00PM-10:00PM at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. For ticket information please visit our Hometown Heroes event page.

Story by Victoria L. Kobza-Sotak

ImageThe American Red Cross of West Michigan is proud to honor Jamie Mills with the Clara Barton Humanitarian of the Year Award.  She is being recognized for her impact on quality health care services locally and for her devotion to many non-profit organizations that serve to strengthen the fabric of our Grand Rapids community.  She is a talented professional, business owner, mentor, health care advocate, philanthropist and community organizer. 


Jamie Mills is a native of New York City.  She graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in American culture.  She also earned a certificate as an employee benefit consultant from the Wharton School of Business.    She is the owner of Mills Benefit Group, and was a recipient of the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Top Women Owned Business Award in 2012, which recognized Mills Benefit Group as the premier employee benefits consulting firm in the region. 


Throughout her career advising local employers on employee benefit plans; Jamie has served companies and individuals as a health care advocate.  She helps companies manage the full spectrum of benefits; but is uniquely known for her devotion to ill patients as they begin to navigate what is sometimes an unfamiliar and complicated health care system.  She knows and appreciates the local and regional health care system, from the individual physicians, specialists, hospitals and lab facilities and helps direct patients to the facilities best equipped to provide good outcomes for their particular health issues.  She makes it her business to ensure that the critically ill or chronically ill patients she works with receive the best care that is available for them in this area.


In this respect, Jamie’s care and personality are very much akin to Clara Barton’s.  Clara Barton was born in Massachusetts on Christmas Day in 1821.  She was at first a teacher and later a nurse and ultimately founded the American Red Cross in May of 1881, at the age of 60, and served for the next 23 years.  The American Red Cross website notes that:  “Her understanding of the needs of people in distress and the ways in which she could provide help to them guided her throughout her life.  By the force of her personal example, she opened paths to the new field of volunteer service.  Her intense devotion to serving others resulted in enough achievements to fill several ordinary lifetimes.” 


Clara Barton was determined to provide the best care wherever it was needed and drummed up support to establish field hospitals near the battlefields during the Civil War.  She had the amazing ability to inspire others in this cause and as a consequence made a huge difference in the outcomes for many, many soldiers.  Jamie Mills’ ability to care for individuals in their time of distress and to inspire others to do the same is legendary on a local level and is the reason why Jamie and Clara seem like kindred spirits to those who know Jamie through her work and volunteer service.  One can just imagine the two of them in the same room exuberantly swapping “war stories.”


Jamie also works with industry leaders to design health care programs that work.  She generously supports the research efforts of the VanAndel Institute. In 2012, she and her partner, Alec Mazo took the lead on the “Dancing for a VARI Good Cause” and helped raise $82,000 for cancer research efforts, winning both the fan favorite and the overall event after several months of Arthur Murray Dance Boot camp! 


She tirelessly donates her time to many other organizations, including her several years on the board of Junior Achievement, the United Way’s Tocqueville Society, the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, being a sponsor of Gilda’s Laugh Fest and member of Gilda’s Club’s Red Door Society, Paws with a Cause, Bid for Bachelor’s, Friends and Families of Cystic Fibrosis, St. John’s Kid’s First Home, and her ongoing support of the American Red Cross of West Michigan.


Jamie donates her time to a number of local organizations including Paws with a Cause.


She is committed to local philanthropy, with significant time commitments to non-profits and personal financial contributions.  She believes that using all her energy and passion doing for others less fortunate is key to building a stronger Grand Rapids community.


In an interview with the Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2013, Jamie said, “I believe for anyone to be successful in business, you must give back to the community that helped your success.”


We are honored to recognize these many years of service to others by naming Jamie Mills as our Clara Barton Humanitarian of the Year for 2014.