World War II was still in Europe and the 1937 flood was waiting to happen when Virginia Carter began as a volunteer for the American Red Cross in Boyd County.
Through the years, she has done everything from sort clothing to baking and shipping cookies to service members around the world. On Friday morning she was given the key to the city, proclaimed a “Hometown Hero” on local television and shown appreciation by a small army of friends and supporters.
“If I had a hundred Jennys, I’d be a happy girl,” said Vicki James, Northeast Kentucky Chapter of the American Red Cross executive director, as a steady stream of donors arrived at Ashland’s Central Fire Station for a blood drive.
“To stay with one organization for 75 years is an amazing feat.”
Born in Bath County, Carter moved to Ashland in 1937 and was almost immediately involved with a friend who asked her to help pack boxes for servicemen. Soon, she was participating in the “Knittin’ for Britain,” program, making sweaters and rolling bandages for the war effort.
She remembers packing boxes of relief items for flood victims in Whitesburg during the 1940s, and is perhaps best known for the batches of chocolate chip cookies she shipped to soldiers as far away as Vietnam.
At 92, she continues to be an active Red Cross volunteer and assists donors during monthly blood drives.
“She takes her job very seriously,” said James. “So much so that she has shown up to volunteer with a broken wrist and another time a walking cast on her foot.”
James said she is amazed Carter has been able to devote so many years of service to a single organization.
“There is no way to put a monetary value on her gift to our chapter and the community through service to Red Cross,” James said, noting Carter is a perfect example of the “Everyday Heroes” theme for March, which has been declared American Red Cross Month.
“She is our everyday hero,” James said, adding she hopes Carter’s story will inspire younger people to get involved with community organizations.
The volunteer seemed caught off guard Friday morning as the Red Cross boss directed the attention of everyone in the room toward her. Her initial look of disbelief soon melted, however, as old friends bearing bouquets and other gifts began to file in from one side expecting hugs and handshakes. Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles read a resolution honoring her and asked the audience to imagine what the city could accomplish if it had a hundred Virginia Carters. City Commissioner Marty Gute presented Carter with a key to the city.
Drawing the most applause during the ceremony, James read a letter to Carter offering the regards of the “Big Blue Nation” and signed by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari. James explained Carter “is a diehard UK fan,” who enjoyed meeting the coach when he visited Ashland after the Wildcats won the NCAA tournament.
Smiling throughout the ceremony, Carter said she has also benefited from her longstanding relationship with the Red Cross.
“I’ve enjoyed it ... all these years. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” she said.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.