Red Cross honors volunteer Olds

ST. MARYS – For Art Olds working with the American Red Cross has been a way of life for a big portion of his 92 years.

Olds first was involved with the Red Cross as a lifeguard when he was 16 years old and later in his life he volunteered helping with disaster relief efforts in a number locales.

When asked how many years of service he has given, Olds said he had lost count.

“They keep telling me it has been 40 years, but it has been more like 30 or more,” he said. “I don’t keep track. I started as kid as a lifeguard.”

Olds said he began to work more with the Red Cross when he retired and now he has retired again.

“I came to West Virginia in 1955 with the silicone plant in Sistersville and stayed there until 1983,” he said. “I began with Union Carbide in 1942 in a job related to the Manhattan Project for two-and-a-half years.”

Olds left that and volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy during World War II in 1944 and served in the South Pacific.

“I’ve had a lot of honors over the years,” he said. “I’ve been honored many times by so many over the years.”

Sharon Kesselring, director of financial development of the West Virginia Region, Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter, American Red Cross, said Olds has given the Red Cross immeasurable years of service.

Kesselring said Olds volunteered with the Red Cross in many ways.

“He’s retired now, but when he was active with us he was a job director; if there was a disaster event he could run the operation and have hundreds of people reporting to him,” she said. “He deployed more than 40 times for us across the United States and in Puerto Rico.”

Olds was honored Tuesday with an open house at The Greenhouse Inc. in St. Marys.

Kesselring said Olds was a model for volunteers.

“He is the epitome of what a volunteer is for us,” she said. “He had a desire to help people and he wanted to help people and was a volunteer with the American Red Cross as a result.”

Kesselring said Olds volunteered with the organization during his 16 years as mayor of St. Marys. After he retired from the political arena, he continued to volunteer.

“For many years he was ‘Mr. Red Cross’ here in Pleasants County,” she said. “We’ve been very, very fortunate to have been able to work with him over the years and he was willing to allow us to honor him.”

While the Red Cross is honoring Olds’ years of service, it is also introducing the Clara Barton Society, Kesselring said.

The Clara Barton Society is named for the founder of the American Red Cross

Olds said the one event that stands out in his memory of years with the Red Cross is the 1985 floods that devastated much of central and eastern West Virginia.

“It was a real learning experience for me,” he said. “I’ve never done any national disasters, only local stuff, and I was thrust into the middle of that.”

Olds said he helped to set up the headquarters for the relief efforts in Clarksburg.

“It devastated a huge portion of the state,” he said. “Especially in Pendleton County and the counties surrounding that area.”

Kesselring said Barton wanted to display the values of compassion for her fellow human beings.

“She was able to do that through the Civil War and disasters after that through the founding of the Red Cross in 1881,” she said. “She was a nurse through it all. Many services we offer today can be traced back to Clara Barton.”

Barton provided services to those in the military, responded to disasters and taught first aid, and made sure there was a tracing system.

“She was an amazing woman and we owe a lot to her,” Kesselring said. “Art took on that compassion and really turned it into action by volunteering for so many years.”

Kesselring said the Clara Barton Society is a giving society and contributions to the society ensure they can continue their work of collecting blood, teaching skills that can save a life or assisting military members and their families.

Olds said he saw work with the Red Cross as a way to help others.

“You shouldn’t say you enjoyed work with the Red Cross since much of the work is with disasters,” he said. “You know you are part of something to help people through your efforts.

“There is nothing more satisfying.”