By Gordon Williams
Joe Lusignan of Kennewick WA says he found himself “unexpectedly unemployed and with time on my hands” after losing the 2020 election for Benton County commissioner (by all of 47 votes). Wife Evelyn suggested he find some place that made him happy and join up as a volunteer.
Joe acted on that advice and volunteered at the Central and Southeastern Washington Chapter of the American Red Cross, headquartered in Kennewick. In the last year-and-a-half, Joe has become one of the busiest and most committed volunteers in the organization’s Northwest Region (covering Washington and North Idaho).
Michele Roth is executive director of the Kennewick chapter. She says what he does is a bit of everything or, as Roth puts it, “Joe really helps wherever he is needed.”
For one thing, he sits on the chapter’s board of directors. Most board members represent local businesses and community organizations. Joe is a “community member” of the board, meaning he represents the Central Washington community at large. It is a vast and diverse community, covering nine counties, with satellite offices in Yakima and Walla Walla.
Besides that, Joe is lead volunteer in the chapter’s Service to Armed Forces (SAF) program. Helping members of the military and their families is a major Red Cross function. It is a perfect fit for Joe, who spent years on active duty with the Marine Corps. For many years he served an organization called Young Marines, first as a volunteer and then as national deputy director. The organization teaches life and leadership skills to teenagers, with a primary goal of keeping kids off drugs.
“One thing that attracted me to the Red Cross was being able to work with veterans,” Joe says. He has built close ties with the Columbia Basin Veterans Center in Pasco WA. When we talked, he was preparing to run a golf tournament for veterans. And he is looking into an equine therapy program, using horses to help veterans returning from deployment cope with the stresses of life back home.
Joe has started helping with Red Cross blood drives — thanking donors, and providing moral support. He has also become active in the Red Cross Home Fire campaign, working to reduce death and injury from home fires by installing smoke alarms in homes that lack a working alarm.
Finally, Joe can be relied upon, when called, to serve as a public information officer for his chapter — drawing on the experience he gained as deputy and PIO for the Benton County. sheriff’s office.
If your image of a Marine is a gun-toting warrior, Joe served a different role — that of Arabic-speaking intelligence analyst. Wife Evelyn was also an Arabic linguist, but in the Air Force. The couple met while in language school, and ended their military careers serving at Fort Meade, Maryland, home of the National Security Agency. When it became clear their next assignment would separate them, they decided to retire.
The couple debated about where to settle in retirement. Evelyn wanted to live in Washington state while Joe thought about returning to his native Massachusetts. “We flipped a coin and she won, so we moved to Kennewick,” he says. “There wasn’t much need for Arabic in the Tri Cities, so I became a cop.”
After his years as a deputy, he spent six years as deputy director of Young Marines. Then came his hair’s-breadth loss in the election, and his desire to find the right role as a volunteer. “I heard these voices in my head telling me to get out and serve somewhere I could make a difference,” he says.
His choice was the Red Cross — where his volunteering has made a very big and very valuable difference.