The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
May’s Red Cross Volunteer of the Month is Allan Shepard. Allan was born and raised in Kansas, where he attended high school and college before joining the Air Force. After four years of military service, including duty in Vietnam, Allan returned to civilian life. He was hired by a fast food company, where he stayed until his retirement a little under three years ago, both managing and owning franchises along the way.
Allan’s smile grows into laughter as he tells a favorite story from his fast food years:
I had sixteen stores in Little Rock and the Colonel [Sanders] came down one day and wanted to go through the stores. So we picked him up from the airport and took him to the first store. He got in there and looked around and tasted everything, and then madder than all get out, he said, ‘Who made this gravy? Throw that stuff in the garbage! I’m going to show you how to make gravy.’ So the Colonel got in the kitchen and made the gravy and tasted it and said, ‘Oh man this is good.’ So then he said, ‘let’s go to another store.’ Well, we knew what he was going to be looking for, so we sent the gravy he had made on ahead to the next store. And he pulled the same thing, saying ‘this is the worst gravy . . .’
Allan doesn’t really like to talk about himself, doesn’t welcome attention or praise. He will say that in his free time, he likes to play golf and fish. He has his own worm farm to grow Red Wigglers and Night Crawlers for fishing. He lives with two German Shepard dogs, one of whom was retired from search and rescue service after a snake bite on the tip of her nose. “I don’t really care for travel,” he says. He is deeply proud of the two sons he raised, and he believes in doing for those who need help, suggesting that he understands intuitively that his power lies in working to heal the parts of the world that he touches, his own family and community.
A volunteer with Lauderdale County Search and Rescue, he was a part of the search for Noah Chamberlain, the two-year-old lost outside of Pinson, Tenn in January of this year. Allan says, “We spent the whole day there. They gave us a section to work, and shoulder to shoulder, we worked it . . . and worked it, and worked it.” Search and Rescue was also how he served the Air Force. He says, “I really felt good when we found people and felt bad when we didn’t, or it turned out to be a bad deal. Search and Rescue was just a calling that nagged on me for a long time.”
The Red Cross, looking for community partners, found Allan at one of those Search and Rescue meetings. As soon as he retired, he joined. He is a member of the Dyersburg Disaster Action Team, where he and Linda Brown, with much-needed help from Lauderdale County volunteers, Chad Phelan and Tanner Jenkins respond to fires and to the recent floods. Together they have worked in Dyer, Lake, Lauderdale, Obion and some of Wheatley Counties.
With so many counties to serve, Allan is always on the lookout for addional Red Cross volunteers. He has tapped his Search and Rescue squad for help and a few have become Red Cross responders. He also encourages those clients who ask what they can do in thanks for receiving Red Cross services to “give the Red Cross a try.” Once when talking to a client’s sister at a fire in Ripley TN, Allan suggested she attend an upcoming Red Cross meeting. “She did,” he says, “she even went on a couple of runs with us, and now she has done one on her own.”
Allan remains one of the extra special volunteers who is on call “any time.” He says, “I’ll go anytime, middle of the night, this afternoon.” As an example, he and his son’s family go to the Indianapolis 500 every year, but Allan says, “we do have a trip planned, but if they had a hurricane, tornado, or something and they called me up, I’d probably say, ‘I’d go there. I think I would.’” True to his word, the day before my interview with him he served a family who had lost everything to fire and as our interview ended he was again called to a fire. “We help them out,” he says simply, “It makes you feel good when you do that.”
From Allan’s point of view, his motives and thoughts require no discussion. He simply does what he does because it is the right thing to do. “It was the way I was raised, I guess. Growing up in a farm family, my dad would say to a neighbor who fell on hard times or broke an arm and needed help milking his cows, ‘take him [Allan], he’ll help you.’ “Same with my sisters,” Allan says, “we were farmed out to help other people–there was no pay for it or anything. I’m talking about when I was ten or eleven years old.”
Allan is an everyday hero. In a voice that is not shouting to be heard, but rather one that is plainly spoken for those who wish to listen, he only sketches his tour of Vietnam, only hints at the difficulties he faced there and the challenges he faced returning home. “We were under attack a few times,” he states. His simple comment becomes an egregious understatement when he finally reveals that his job was to go into the jungle to rescue pilots from planes that were shot down. “I wasn’t in hand to hand combat or anything. When our people went down,” he says, “it was our job to go find them.”
So why volunteer at the Red Cross? Allan says it well, “The Red Cross has been a good deal every time. People really need the help.”