Glenda Bobalik was looking for a summer job with which to make a little money when she approached the Red Cross in Central Texas. “I started out teaching Red Cross swimming lessons, then moved on to teaching canoeing and sailing through the Red Cross. That lasted for four summers,” Bobalik remembers.
And that was the beginning of a lifetime of committed service.
“After I got married and moved to Kingsport,” she recalls,” I was naturally drawn to Red Cross because of my familiarity to it, so I got a job as a volunteer at Holston Valley Hospital and began working with Jane Harris, who was the Red Cross executive director at the time.” Bobalik later taught CPR.
Bobalik quickly worked her way up the ranks to the position of Director of Volunteers alongside Harris. The next 30 years were spent in many states, small towns, and stressful situations.
“One of the things I like the most about working with the Red Cross is its diversity. Anyone can find a place in the organization that utilizes their strengths and interests, and gives them a choice of activities, so if you’re not entirely comfortable in a situation, you can spend time working through it, or perhaps find something that is more comfortable,” says Bobalik. There is also ongoing training, which Bobalik says is key to Red Cross’ success.
“Training is offered all the time. And with the advent of so much technology, individuals can work at their own speed and learn quickly about topics that interest them. They learn more, faster and stay engaged longer,” she said.
Bobalik talked about some of the many challenges she dealt with over the years. Fires here at home were probably the scene she encountered most, but this area has also seen floods and fires of devastating proportions. Bobalik and numerous Red Cross disaster volunteers have worked disasters at many locations, near and far, from the recent floods in Carter County, to the fire on Christmas Eve at John Sevier Senior Center, a residence for the elderly in Johnson City, to a flood in Clairfield, Tennessee, to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, to countless others.
One of the disasters had an “unusual” twist.
“When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida back in the 90s, we all heard about it, but there was another hurricane, 'Iniki’ that hit Hawaii about the same time. That was where I was deployed to for three weeks. There wasn’t a lot of news about it in Tennessee, but California heard a lot. But believe me, it wasn’t a vacation!”
A lot of people were not aware that East Tennessee had New Orleans residents relocate here after Katrina. “Oh, yes. They were housed at the University of Tennessee’s 4-H camp. They were very nice; some stayed here longer, but they felt our food was little ‘bland,’” she laughed.
The last decade or so, Bobalik has served as executive director of the Northeast Tennessee American Red Cross, a post from which she just recently retired. All told, she devoted more than 45 years of service - 15 as a volunteer and 30 years as staff - to Red Cross.
“As many community workers know, knowledge of services and resources is one of the most important things you can know when working with people who have been displaced or have lost everything. That is why we are constantly meeting with groups in the community to find out about their resources, what they could offer our clients in the event of a disaster. And, of course, it works both ways. The more you know about your community and the surrounding area, the more help you can give,” she explained.
Bobalik is also quick to add that another very important job of the American Red Cross is the assistance it gives to veterans and military families. “Coming from a military family, I grew up knowing Red Cross’ responsibilities to our Armed Forces. It isn’t widely recognized, but it is certainly one of the most important duties we perform.”
So, after a very full life, does she have any immediate plans for her retirement?
“Yes. I have an 8-year-old granddaughter who is very involved in sports and she lives in Pennsylvania. That means a 10-hour trip to Pennsylvania to see a swim meet, then a 10-hour trip back to Kingsport. I am hoping with retirement I might get to actually stay a few days and have a nice visit!”
Thank you, Glenda, for all your hard work and dedication over the years. Enjoy your retirement. You’ve earned it!