By Colin Downey
“Service to others”is not just a catch-phrase to American Red Cross volunteer and Walla Walla resident Dixie Ferguson. It’s her way of life and has been for decades. Last week, Dixie was recognized for her tireless commitment to others – particularly U.S. veterans – as she was honored with the “Volunteer of the Year” award given by the Pacific Division of the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program.
The honor – and ensuing party – were a total surprise to Dixie. “It was over-the-top,” she said. “It was the best kept secret in this small town. I get emotional just talking about it.” The gathering was held at Park Plaza, a retirement community home to many of the veterans Dixie has served for years.
Dixie joined the American Red Cross in 1966 after she graduated from college with a degree in social work when she heard the Red Cross was hiring to work with the military members overseas.
“I learned about the Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO), a special Red Cross program for women college graduates during wartime. I was excited about the job description, a unique opportunity to serve my country, do humanitarian work and seek new adventures.”
Dixie worked as a recreation worker, nicknamed “Donut Dolly” by the service members. From 1966 to 1967, Dixie was in Vietnam helping military members. Later she went on to work as a recreational worker in several military hospitals state-side.
Fifty years later, Dixie is still very active with the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program in Walla Walla, Washington. Her main responsibilities are as an outreach coordinator and emergency communications caseworker. She’s also been instrumental in helping to document the stories of World War II veterans. These accounts are cataloged in Washington D.C. at the Library of Congress as part of the “Veterans History Project”.
“The Red Cross is still serving the military and veterans every hour of the day and I am extremely proud to be a volunteer supporting the Armed Forces,” Dixie said. “It changed my life. It opened incredible doors to travel and serve veterans. That’s my passion.”