Celebrating a milestone

140 years of service, innovation, and hope

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

May 21 marks a milestone in the history of American compassion and generosity: 140 years ago today, Clara Barton organized the American Association of the Red Cross to appeal for clothing and funds for victims of a devastating forest fire in Michigan.

Circa1865. Matthew Brady portrait of Clara Barton.

Her visionary leadership laid the groundwork for future generations to transform the Red Cross into a leading humanitarian organization. It brings together the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors to prevent emergencies and alleviate suffering across our country and around the world.

This video provides a brief history of the Red Cross.

Throughout the 1880s, Clara and her corps of a few hundred volunteers mobilized to help survivors of floods and famines, storms and outbreaks of disease. During the Spanish-American War, she led support activities for U.S. military forces in Cuba.

By 1904, the organization had taken on such crucial roles that it received a charter from the U.S. Congress, giving it official duties to support American armed forces and to provide disaster relief.

Cleveland-born Mable Thorp Boardman took over leadership of the American Red Cross in 1905 and a local chapter was founded in her home town. During her 44 years of involvement, Mabel was credited as being the “administrative genius” who presided over exponential growth of the organization and expanded its range of prevention and response activities.

As World War I spread across Europe, readiness-minded folks in Lorain, Elyria, Toledo and Erie and Wood counties formed chapters in 1916; the following year, chapters sprang up in Medina, Summit, Stark, Wayne, Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage, Ottawa, Sandusky, Huron, Hancock counties and the Muskingum Lakes area!

Late in the 20th century, Cleveland again provided leadership to the Red Cross – Steve Bullock. After 16 years as CEO of the greater Cleveland chapter, Bullock was tapped to serve as interim president of the American National Red Cross during 1998-99. He brought a wealth of experience to national headquarters, having worked for the Red Cross in military installations in the U.S., Europe and Southeast Asia as well as being executive director of the St. Paul, Minn., chapter.

Steve Bullock
Photo credit: Daniel Cima/American rRed Cross

Steve quickly outlined his “100-day plan” to enhance the organization’s strengths, support local chapters, strengthen international relationships and address problems in the blood services division. “It’s a matter of making sure we’re performing at an excellent level,” he said.

Local and global impact

As we mark this anniversary, the Northern Ohio Region of the Red Cross serves 5.3 million residents in 31 counties, where trained responders provide comfort, essentials like food and shelter, and support for folks to rebuild their lives after crises of all kinds – more than three times every 24 hours.

This video recaps 140 years of disaster responses.

Meanwhile, we’re collecting, testing and distributing blood and blood products for accident victims, surgery patients and those undergoing treatment for chronic conditions and life-threatening diseases. Most recently, we began free COVID-19 antibody testing on all blood donations.

Men and women in our armed forces, veterans, and their families and caregivers can turn to the Red Cross for emergency communications, mental wellness courses, deployment readiness briefings and  morale-boosting activities in military medical facilities here and abroad.

Through a diverse portfolio of classes, more than 4.5 million people a year receive Red Cross training in first aid, water safety, nurse assistant training and testing, along with other lifesaving skills. The Red Cross also offers free mobile apps that about 2 million people download each year, including our First Aid, Pet First Aid and Swim apps. 

And as part of the world’s largest humanitarian network, the Red Cross is one of 192 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies across the globe that respond to disasters, help families search for loved ones missing as a result of war, natural disaster or civil unrest, and work to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

How you can make a difference

American Red Cross humanitarian activities are only possible through the generosity of donors and volunteers, who comprise more than 90% of our workforce. Visit redcross.org to get involved by making a financial donation, volunteering, giving blood or taking a class to learn lifesaving skills.

Steve Bullock’s Red Cross legacy is local and national

Local leader once helped guide the National American Red Cross 

By Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

February 22, 2019 – Steve Bullock’s career with the American Red Cross spans six decades. During that time, he has been one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and paid staff striving to help Americans and people around the world prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

But there’s one thing no other Red Crosser will ever be able to claim: Steve was the first African-American to sit at the helm of our nation’s premier humanitarian organization.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a more inspiring role model than Steve,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO of the Red Cross in Northeast Ohio. “It’s no wonder our Northeast Ohio Red Cross Humanitarian Award is named in his honor. He has lived a life of service to mankind.” Parks added “I am humbled by his friendship and continued support.”

Steve Delano Bullock was the youngest of 22 children born to a sharecropper family in segregated North Carolina. He was in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1962 when he first volunteered with the Red Cross. He found a fit in the organization that upholds impartiality – not discriminating on the basis of nationality, race, religion, class or political beliefs – as one of its fundamental principles.

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By 1998, Steve had been executive director of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Red Cross for 15 years when he was tapped to serve as interim president of the American National Red Cross in Washington, DC.

Steve had already distinguished himself as a model of leadership: Having led successful chapters in St. Paul, Minn., and Cleveland, in 1988 he was named chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee, a group of senior Red Cross field executives who counseled top management on issues facing the organization. Several years later, he was appointed to head the 1996 national American Red Cross fundraising campaign.

Meanwhile, in Cleveland, he oversaw the launch of Operation Save-A-Life, which aimed to reduce injuries and deaths due to home fires by providing residents in at-risk neighborhoods with fire safety education and free smoke alarms and installations. That initiative has been adopted by the Red Cross nationwide and as of the end of 2018, more than 1.5 million alarms have been installed and more than 500 lives have been saved.

When the call came from Washington, Steve was no “filler” between high-profile national leaders. He quickly outlined his “100-day plan” to enhance the organization’s strengths, support local chapters, strengthen international relationships and address problems in the blood services division. “It’s a matter of making sure we’re performing at an excellent level,” he said.

That commitment to excellence led him to found The Bullock Group, a Cleveland-based management consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofits. He has also shared his expertise by taking leadership positions in a wide variety of civic organizations as well as University Heights City Council and his alma mater, Virginia Union University.

Steve has distilled his experience as an African-American leader in a predominantly white society into a book, “My Name Is Steve Delano Bullock: How I Changed My World and The World Around Me Through Leadership, Caring and Perseverance.” Through it, he wants to empower others to succeed in business and in life, regardless of any hurdles before them.

Read more about Steve Bullock and other African Americans who have helped shape the Red Cross here.