By Gordon Williams
Responding to life-threatening disasters, as American Red Cross workers do, builds tightly-knit teams that come to resemble families. When a member of such a team dies, all team members feel a sense of wrenching loss.
Red Cross workers throughout the Pacific Northwest are experiencing such a loss now, following the death of their long-time colleague Kevin Kopp. Kevin spent 14 years with the Red Cross Northwest Region, covering much of Washington state and Northern Idaho.
Kevin did many things with the Red Cross, first as a volunteer and then as an employee —deploying to disaster scenes, working in Red Cross operations, training new volunteers and more. Over the years, his primary focus was on logistics. Red Cross responders can only function at disaster scenes if they are well stocked with cots and blankets and emergency supplies of food. That makes logistics a key function within the Red Cross — vital to our ability to aid those in distress.
Kevin’s death in late October was shocking on many counts. Losing someone with Kevin’s skills and experience hurts the ability of the Red Cross to respond when needed. This summer has been a frantic one for the Red Cross. Beyond the normal run of house fires, the region has been hit by an epidemic of wildfires. Large numbers of Red Cross workers from the region deployed to such far-off disasters as hurricanes in Florida and tornadoes in Kentucky.
Kevin’s death was also unexpected. We know now that he had been battling cancer for several years, but he kept word of his condition to himself. Even many of the Red Cross workers who knew Kevin best did not realize how sick he was. Alex Dieffenbach, executive director of the Northwest Region shared the news early in October. “It is with a heavy heart that I share with you an update on Kevin Kopp,” Alex wrote. “As some of you know, Kevin has courageously battled cancer for the past two years. Today, Kevin shared that he will be going on hospice care from his home.” Kevin’s death followed shortly after.
To understand exactly how Kevin served the Red Cross, we asked the people who served with him for their thoughts and recollections. To Martha Read, senior disaster service manager for the Northwest Region, “Kevin was, well, simply Kevin — helpful, reliable, resourceful, concerned about others, wanting to find the most practical way to advance the Red Cross mission.”
Read points to another side of Kevin — fun-loving. “I loved watching him emcee Bingo at All-Team meetings,” she says. “I loved his goofy virtual background screens (in meetings).”
Jennifer Carkner, chief disaster officer for the Northwest region, calls Kevin “a professional logistician, passionate Red Crosser and a friend to all he met. He was a vital member of the Disaster Cycle Services team, not only for the Northwest Region, but also for the entire Pacific Division, and the national organization.”
Carol Wilson, mental health lead for the King County chapter, recalls the warm way Kevin welcomed her when she first became a Red Cross volunteer. “He was always kind and supportive,” she says. Paula Spence, a volunteer disaster responder, took a class with Kevin and says, “he knew his job so well. I think of him as a Red Cross icon.”
Steve Finley, disaster program manager for the South Puget Sound and Olympics chapter in Tacoma, says “Kevin was the best of all of us at engaging volunteers in our mission.” Finley says he had total confidence in Kevin’s ability to get supplies to where they were needed when they were needed. Kevin’s tool of choice for managing supplies was the spreadsheet. Finley says, “Kevin never saw a spreadsheet he didn’t like.”
Teams that work in high-stress environments often tag themselves with colorful nicknames. When the Dodger baseball teams played in Brooklyn they were “the Bums.” At their peak, the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s team.” The logistics teams that worked with Kevin were known as the Pumphouse Gang. Volunteer Gene Neuberger explains that the name came from an actual pumping station in Kent WA that the Red Cross used as a storage facility.
“The city of Kent had an obsolete water pumping station that was declared excess and offered to the Red Cross as a storage facility,” Neuberger says. “A group of volunteers spent several hours over a couple of days cleaning the former pumping station of all manner of debris, cobwebs and rodent droppings.” That storage facility morphed into a network of Red Cross Disaster Response Supply Centers in cities all across King County.
Volunteer Tony Puglisi and wife Pam are veterans of the Pumphouse Gang who worked closely with Kevin. “He knew everything about everything,” Tony Puglisi says. “He knew what equipment was needed to get any job done, where to get it and at what price. I think he even knew the names of the mice we used to trap in the pumphouse.”
When he wasn’t managing the Pumphouse Gang, Kevin found time to hunt down and rescue artifacts from the organization’s long history. In one such search of Red Cross documents, Kevin turned up the existence of burial plots donated years ago to the Red Cross and now the resting place for veterans of the Spanish American war. The results of his detective work were then passed along to the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) function.
So that is the story of Kevin Kopp — a much beloved and sadly missed Red Cross worker. The final word comes from Martha Read who says, “he was a warm, kind person who considered other people worthy of his time and talent. Helping was simply part of his being. When I think of him I smile.”
5 thoughts on “A sad goodbye to Red Cross icon Kevin Kopp”
THANK YOU, Kevin, for your service and memories. You were always generous with your time and talent to troubleshoot a problem, answer a question, or give advice with humor. I appreciated the example you set as a Red Cross worker!
Thank you, Kevin. I was both a Red Cross volunteer and employee over the course of many years, and Kevin was instrumental in giving me good advice and direction. Kevin had the ability to recognize the individual strengths and weaknesses of those he worked with. As an RC employee, I filled in as his temporary logistics replacement when he was deployed or on vacation. It gave me a clear picture of the many responsibilities he handled and the true value he brought to everyday activities. Kevin, you were a master at your task, and a friend. Knowing you enriched my life, and you are missed.
Bruce A. Swee
For the 14 years I worked with and for Kevin was a great pleasure. He was the person you wanted to work for not had to. He works come down to our DST office, open the door and shout “HELLO” and then request what ever he needed at the time. I worked with him on several deployments and it was the same type of openness and smile you saw at the chapter. He will be missed by all. I am sure he is in heaven organizing them right now…….
Losing Kevin is just heart breaking. He was a man of many talents who knew how to get things done both with his own hard work and through enlisting others to use their skills. He had a caring spirit which he turned into action that helped so many. He will be sorely missed.
What a beautiful tribute from his Red Cross family. As a family member, it’s touching to hear about this part of his life. For local folks who are interested:
The Memorial Service for Kevin Kopp will be at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, November 12, 2022 at the
Highlands Community Church
3031 NE 10th Street Renton, WA 98056