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.
Longtime Red Cross volunteer Walt Bodner stands firmly on the ground of duty and guardianship to those in need. When the Red Cross calls with a need for bulk distribution after Hurricane Sandy or to ERV instruction here at home, Walt responds because he believes in a life of contribution, instructed by his heart. ”To do right is important. That is not to say I always do right,” he chuckles, “but there is a tremendous reward in helping people.”
Walt’s contribution takes many forms. Before becoming a Memphis Red Cross volunteer in January 1998, Walt taught law enforcement at The University of Phoenix, was a private security professional, a construction project manager, and central to his stake in the world, was a rescue helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard. He has lived in eleven states, and held many professional positions including his first job as a doughnut baker’s helper in his hometown of Manchester, NH.
With a keen desire to escape from a dying mill town, his plan was to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado. When timing derailed that plan, he created a new plan accepting an offer to attend the Coast Guard Academy and went on to a Coast Guard career.
Still thinking he wanted to fly fixed wing aircraft, it took five or six years of serving in the Coast Guard before Walt could understand that the Guard, rather than the Air Force, was the best choice for him. While on a water pick up mission, He realized that the Coast Guard provided an opportunity to help others and to help was what he loved best. “ This (Coast Guard) was helping people and that, sort of, colored the rest of my life. I now I realize why I’m here is to help people,” he said.
Helping people is why he serves the Red Cross as well. Although Walt’s Mensa membership and multiple degrees belie his down home demeanor, he simply states the reason for his dedication to the Red Cross, “The Red Cross allows me to do good.”
When asked where he finds strength in the face of tragedy, he admits to being better at ERV or working in bulk than in case work. Even so, during his Coast Guard experience, he practiced the courage needed to respond to those in need. For example, sometimes duty said for him to “go further into the thunderstorm or whatever”; and yet, Walt insists that bravery is not an absence of fear. “Fearless men, and women, are just that, fearless and that is all.” Perhaps more difficult, sometimes duty required him to stand up for his crew against a directive. Walt acknowledges, “That’s part of being brave, too, having to face the man in the morning.” With a twinkle Walt concludes, “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.”
“I am grateful and feel so blessed to have done so many things that have been so enjoyable.” And yet, when asked if there was anything else that he would like to do, he smiled and said, “I wouldn’t mind traveling to Mars.” For now, however, he’ll continue to devote his time to providing relief for those in need. “That’s what we do in the Red Cross. We help people get through.”
This year, Walt and his wife, Phyllis, will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Israel. They have two children, six grandchildren, and a great grandchild.
Story and photo credit: Kathleen Bradley/American Red Cross
Story posted February 26, 2015