American Red Cross activities in the Omaha area began many years before the organization of a
local chapter. Area residents answered appeals by the Red Cross for food, clothing, medical
supplies and funds to help victims of major disasters across the nation.
The Easter Sunday Tornado of 1913 brought Red Cross disaster relief to Omaha. Trained disaster
workers helped organize local relief efforts and many local nurses were recruited to care for the
injured. In 1916, just four days after America entered World War I, the local Red Cross began
meeting the needs of the military. Hundreds of chapters were created, seemingly, overnight.
Among them was the Omaha Chapter. On April 1, 1917, the Omaha Chapter was formed with Gould
Dietz, a local businessman, as the first chapter chairman.
Office space was provided in the
Douglas County Courthouse. Red Cross activities during World War I varied.
Canteens were established at railroad stations and Fort Omaha. Home Service provided assistance
to families of servicemen and women. Other volunteers produced hospital garments, surgical
dressings and knitted items to be sent overseas.
In cooperation with the University of Nebraska Hospital, fully equipped hospital and ambulance
units were created and sent to France. Staffed by local volunteers, both units traveled
extensively throughout France. During the war, local citizens contributed generously to aid the
chapter in meeting local and national needs. More than $1.25 million was raised between March 5,
1917, and January 31, 1919.
The period between the World Wars did not see a decline in local Red Cross activities. A nursing
service was organized January 24, 1919. In cooperation with the Visiting Nurses Association,
care was given to victims of the flu epidemic. Clothing drives were also organized for war
victims in Europe. Junior Red Cross, which was active during World War I, was dropped in 1922
but reactivated ten years later.
First aid classes began in 1934 and the system of four highway first aid stations was created in
1935. In 1935, the chapter name was changed to Douglas County Chapter. A Braille transcription
service was begun in 1936. This service would last until taken over by the American Association
for the Blind in 1947. "Learn-to-swim" programs were initiated in 1937.
The local Community Chest was unable to meet Red Cross needs for funding. By mutual agreement,
Red Cross withdrew from the Community Chest in 1939. They were to remain separate until 1955.
Roll call for funds was generously supported by local citizens. Red Cross was forced out of its
offices at the courthouse when, in 1919, citizens rioted and set fire to the building.
Offices were located in numerous buildings with other services distributed to other locations
throughout the city. It was decided in August 1941 to purchase the first Chapter House at 208
South 33rd Street. During World War II, many services provided in the earlier war were
resurrected. The chapter trained 593 women as nurses' aides for the ill and injured at home, so
trained nurses could be sent to war.
Junior Red Cross gained popularity during World War II. More than 46,000 youth made toys for
children in Europe, cared for orphans and held food drives. Thousands of elementary and high
school students sponsored holiday dinners, dances and a Safe-Teen program for student drivers.
Volunteers visited Fort Omaha Hospital to read books, play music or help patients write letters.
They staffed canteens at railway stations to give departing servicemen shaving cream, postcards
and other items difficult to obtain overseas.
The Chapter worked with the University of Nebraska Medical Center to send a mobile hospital unit
to France. After the war, interest grew in first aid, nursing and swimming classes. Red Cross
also began Braille transcription of books for the blind. Needs at home did not cease. In 1943
and 1944, the Chapter Disaster Preparedness Committee provided relief to more than 500 victims
of local flooding.
First aid stations were established at dangerous highway intersections and Mobile First Aid Units
cared for the injured on streets and highways. Nursing Services expanded in the 1950s and 60s to
offer Home Nursing classes at public schools. In the 1970s, Nursing and Health classes grew
beyond the basic offerings to include Prenatal Parenting, CPR and Babysitting (Mother's Aide)
World War II caused tremendous growth in Red Cross activities. Home Service was expanded to meet
the needs of servicemen and their families. Production corps again furnished surgical dressings
and garments for shipment overseas. Canteens were maintained at railway stations, the YMCA and
the Omaha Municipal Airport. Later, air evacuees were served at Offutt Field.
Aide Corps helped make up for the shortage of nurses in local hospitals. The Chapter was prepared
for disaster. A nationwide Disaster Preparedness Committee worked with the Omaha Fire Department
to strategically locate emergency supplies around the city. Major flooding on the Missouri River
in April 1943 tested the readiness of the Preparedness Committee.
With the conclusion of World War II, Red Cross cut back on some programs, but began others. A
blood bank was established in October 1947 to serve local hospitals. Located at 2549 Farnam St.,
the program met with success and was designated one of the first National Centers on January 1,
Nutrition Services provided nutrition education. Home nursing classes provided
health education to hundreds of homemakers. Special swimming programs enabled children afflicted
with polio to have fun while strengthening weakened muscles. The chapter also trained volunteer
workers to work with polio victims in their homes.
Home Service was active during the Korean Conflict, providing financial assistance to servicemen
and aiding in emergency communications between servicemen and their families. Flooding on the
Missouri River again in 1952 challenged prepared volunteers. More than $1.5 million was expended
in this area during the relief effort.
Due to expansion of Mutual of Omaha and the need for more space at one location by the chapter ,
a new Chapter House was purchased at 432 South 39th St. in February 1956. The reuniting of Red
Cross with the Community Chest yielded increased fund-raising effort. Money was raised to build
an addition to the Chapter House, in which an expanded blood center would be located.
On July 1, 1961, the Douglas County Chapter and Sarpy County Chapter merged to form The
Douglas/Sarpy County Chapter. Blood Services continued to expand so that after 25 years, 81
chapters in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas (with 108 hospitals) were fully participating. Home
Service, later called "Service to Military Families," expanded again to meet the needs of
servicemen during the Vietnam war.
Local disaster needs were met by prepared volunteers and staff. Blizzards, flooding, fires and
tornadoes affected hundreds of persons. Thousands of dollars in aid was distributed. A major
tornado in Omaha on May 6, 1975, cost the Chapter $349,950. Expanding programs and services,
once again, created the need for larger facilities. A new chapter house and blood center was
constructed at 3838 Dewey Ave. and opened October 15, 1979.
The "Heartland Chapter" was created when the Cass County Chapter and the Douglas/Sarpy County
Chapter merged on July 1, 1981. Services continued to increase. Red Cross was a major participant
in the first Health Fair of the Midlands, April 1983. It is an effort to provide health screening
and health education to persons living in Omaha and southwest Iowa. Today, many services offered
at the chapter's inception continue.
Thousands of military members and their families
received Red Cross assistance during Operation Desert Storm. Local volunteers respond to more
than 200 house and apartment fires each year. Courses in child care and lifesaving are popular
choices for persons selecting careers in those fields.
Due to a nationwide transformation of blood services, in 1993, Chapter Services, which includes
Community Health and Safety and Emergency Services, separated operations from Midwest Region
Blood Services. Two separate boards of directors were formed and a Chapter Executive Director,
Sam Tidwell, was hired to manage the activities of the Chapter. The Red Cross, as always, remains
committed to meeting critical needs of the community.
In 1996, CARES, a home caregivers
education program designed help the growing number of people taking care of elderly and seriously
ill friends or family members living at home. On December 6, 1996, a new facility, donated by the
Heartland community to house the Chapter's operations, was dedicated. A fully suscribed capital
campaign, chaired by Dick Davidson of Union Pacific Railroad, raised the needed $2.7 million
from individual, business and foundation contributors.
The new Red Cross building is 30,750 square feet and meets the growing need for more classroom
space - for both traditional programs such as first aid and CPR - and for new programs like the
Red Cross CARES program, a program designed to teach people how to care for seriously ill or
elderly people at home.
Other community non-profit groups may be able to use the facilities meeting space when Red Cross
programs are not scheduled. A Disaster Operations Center (DOC) and disaster equipment storage
are housed in the new building. The DOC improves service and cuts response time of the Chapter's
Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteers.
The DAT volunteers are on-call 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year responding to home fires and other
emergencies. The new Red Cross building allows much greater efficiency. Paid and volunteers staff
are consolidated in one facility for the first time in more than 10 years. Heartland Chapter
operating costs will be reduced considerably by eliminating lease payments. The savings can be
used on direct services to people in our community.
General Contractor for the building was Lueder Construction Company. The architect was HGM
To date, the following is a partial listing of awards and recognition presented to the Heartland