By MATT KOESTERS
Through happy and sad times, through fires, ice storms, wind storms, floods and tornadoes, Phyllis Wilkins has been there for Clark County.
On Friday, the Clark County Chapter of the American Red Cross will honor Wilkins, who is retiring from her post as the organization’s executive director after 15 years.
“We’re all faced with times of decision in our lives,” Wilkins said. “Just because you reach a certain age, you don’t get to take a pass on trying to make a difference. God has a plan for each of us. Chuck Ledbetter [Sr.] spoke of the restlessness in his heart being a call to serve others. I can relate to that. We just need to have our tools ready, and God will find us work.”
Scott Carr, the chairman of the Clark County Chapter’s board of directors, called Wilkins “a great asset for the Red Cross as the face of the organization to the local community.”
“The next person coming into the organization has some big shoes to fill,” Carr said.
Wilkins comes from a long line of Red Cross volunteers. Her grandmother, Bernice Hagest, was a 50-year volunteer with the Red Cross.
“Sometimes, it was difficult to tell the difference between my ‘real’ family and my Red Cross family,” Wilkins said. “That’s because my family has always been there providing support.”
As the Red Cross is a disaster-response organization, the highlights and lowlights of a career are marked by the various catastrophes inflicted upon a community. Understandably, Wilkins’ feelings about the past are mixed, but the power of communities to pull together have made her work enjoyable. The most recent disaster, the March 2 tornadoes that ravaged Henryville, Marysville and other parts of Southern Indiana, is a prime example of that.
“The unprecedented number of groups, organizations, volunteers, churches, local governments, schools, friends and neighbors who continue to provide assistance is a testament to the awesome world in which we live,” Wilkins said. “I have the utmost respect and gratitude to everyone who has helped those affected by this local disaster. Really, words just can’t express how sorry I am for the personal devastation suffered by our friends and neighbors.”
Mary Lou Densford, the Clark County Chapter’s service to the armed forces coordinator, has worked with Wilkins for 15 years. She said that Wilkins was easy to work with, but didn’t hesitate to challenge employees and volunteers to step out of their comfort zones.
“Phyllis encouraged her staff to think outside of their box and to try new things, new areas,” Densford said. “... She always did.”
Carr said the Clark County Chapter’s board of directors has formed a search committee to identify a new executive director, with the goal of having Wilkins’ replacement hired by the end of the year.