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.
A determined Dare Estok, recovering from surgery, went to Ocean Springs, MS, in 2005 on a trip to help Hurricane Katrina victims. While there, she heard and remembered a resident’s observation, “You can take our house, but you can’t take our spirit.”
Dare, too, believes that an open heart, a generous spirit, empathy for the suffering of others, as well as a well developed sense of humor are the limbs of a happy life. She understands that an open heart embraces suffering as well as joy. Tears fill her eyes as she reflects on the sudden loss of her husband, Jim, her soul companion, who died in her arms in 2001 when he was only fifty-five.
“Live every day as if it is the last and don’t assume that people know you love them, say it. Tell them every day,” says Dare.
A generous spirit bubbles out of Dare from a place that knows a deep loss demands that those who remain live fully, give fully, and bring joy to those around them. A prolific Red Cross volunteer, she teaches the Disaster Services Overview course, works at the VA Hospital as part of the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces, helps with the Fire Safety House, and assists with the Red Boa Ball, the major fund raising event for the Mid-South chapter.
It was the Red Cross’s quick response after her husband’s passing that brought Dare into their service. Her son, Tom, was in the Army in Germany when her husband died at 10:30 p.m. on May 15, a Tuesday. The Red Cross got in touch with Tom’s commanding officer the morning of May 16. “. . . and in less than thirty-six hours, my son was standing by my side….Unless you go through it, you just have no idea how much you appreciate somebody stepping in to help like that,” said Dare.
Empathy and compassion are deeply woven into Dare’s very fabric. Acknowledging that her mother and father offered her many opportunities, for which she is grateful, she adds, “that to whom much is given, much is expected.” Dare’s mother was a Red Cross volunteer. Her daughter works for the Church Health Center. Her three siblings give their time to volunteer organizations. It’s what her family does, so when Dare retired from her successful real estate career, she looked for ways to share her many, many gifts and talents with the Memphis community. “ . . . when I began to look for a worthy [volunteer] organization, the Red Cross was the first that came to mind,” said Dare. In addition, she volunteers with MIFA’s Meals on Wheels, tutors for the Literacy Council, and has volunteered with Memphis Empty Bowls and the Church Health Center.
Dare acknowledges that she has had challenges as well as advantages; even so, a seemingly innate effervescence is apparent when she shares her motto, “Let no champagne go untasted.” Dare is able to pick herself up when thrown and ends up making a good story of it. There was the time she and her ex-husband’s ex-wife spent a three-hour lay-over touring Los Angeles from the back seat of a hired limousine with a couple of bottles of champagne. Upon returning to the airport to catch their flight, the now intrepid ladies tried to go up the down escalator with no success. “You cannot go up a down escalator,” Dare exclaims with a throaty laugh, “we tried and it simply cannot be done.”
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” is Dare’s favorite movie. She even named her beloved Golden Retriever Bailey after George Bailey, the film’s protagonist. When she realized that she and her now deceased husband Jim shared the movie’s message as a worldview, she married him.
Raised in Friendship, TN, a town about eighty miles north of here, with a population of 420 when she was in school that grew to 500 when “they enlarged the city limits,” Dare is anything but provincial. She earned multiple degrees, became a classically trained pianist (her first job earned $5 an hour playing piano in a piano bar), and is a world traveler (best food in the world is either a Fettuccine Alfredo from a bistro in Rome or a moussaka from “a fabulous little restaurant” in Athens, Greece, or maybe the tamales in Guatemala). In addition, she is a singer in four bands, a gifted story teller (if you have not heard her tell the hysterically funny story of the day the Friendship Bank was robbed, ask her about it), and, of course, a Red Cross volunteer.
The Red Cross helped Dare at a time when she was in need, and the organization was one of her mother’s charities, but the decisive constituent of her decision to volunteer came when she researched the percentage of the organization’s funds going to those in need. It’s a “no brainer,” according to Dare, when 91 cents of every dollar goes to support the humanitarian services of the Red Cross.
Story and photo credit: Kathleen Bradley/American Red Cross