Photo: Don Geurtze, Eastern Territory Aquatics Specialist (left), and Gary Striar, CEO of the American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region (right).
The American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region (ARCNENY) congratulates Don Geurtze, Regional Zone Aquatics Specialist, on his retirement, November 30, 2012. In 41 years, Geurtze’s various roles in the Northeastern New York Region spanned Blood Services, Emergency Services, and Health and Safety.
By the end of his career, Geurtze had come full circle; he was back where it all began, in aquatic safety. As an Aquatic Specialist for the Eastern New York Territory, he oversaw all Regional training, including the training of instructors. Geurtze had remained involved in aquatics safety throughout his career, even when it wasn’t his paid job.
Geurtze’s relationship with the American Red Cross (ARC) began while he was still in high school. As an upperclassman at Bethlehem Central, Don volunteered in the area of water safety and as a member of the High School Disaster Squad, a student organization affiliated with the Red Cross.
After graduating from Hudson Valley Community College, Geurtze wanted to be an electrician. However, a sports injury to his knee made the crawling, kneeling, and climbing required for that line of work impossible for him. Geurtze chose to return to the Red Cross in March, 1971, and made it his career.
Looking back, he remembered his most challenging moments presented themselves while working with Emergency Services. “You are dealing with people who are experiencing one of the hardest times of their lives,” Geurtze said. He recalled one particularly difficult case: a local city was experiencing a rash of suspicious fires, and a family had lost their young child in a house fire. Geurtze made the funeral arrangements. It was a heartbreaking task. “But you know you are really helping them get through a rough time,” he said.
Some of his fondest memories are of the National Aquatic School, an annual one-week training camp held each summer to teach students water safety and lifesaving; which he participated in for 33 years, until 2011, the camp’s last year of operation. Students came from all over the US, Europe, and Oceania. The staff, primarily from the northeastern US, would return year after year. “It was like a family reunion,” said Geurtze.
Co-workers are quick to praise Geurtze and his commitment to the American Red Cross. “No one is more dedicated to the ARC than Don,” said John Wagner, NYS Eastern Territory Service Delivery Manager, who has known Geurtze for nearly 30 years.
“Don is an example of the amazing staff and volunteers that carry out our work each and every day, “ Said Gary Striar, CEO of the American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region. “For more than 40 years, Don has been dedicated to making sure that local residents have the Red Cross services that they need.”
Janet Stark, a coordinator in ARCNENY’s Preparedness Health & Safety Services department, and a co-worker, on and off, for 20 years says of Geurtze: “Don is the consummate professional; the ultimate team player with a wealth of knowledge in his head. He will be missed.”
Account Executive, Ray Maldonado agrees. “Don knew everything. He was a human computer; the best source of information available. And he’d always give you the history to support it.”
Katie Roulston was an AmeriCorps volunteer when she first met Geurtze. She begged him for a spot in his life-saving class. He obliged when there was finally an opening. Coincidently, she had just applied for her current position as Training Scheduler at the Northeastern New York Region. Roulston said not only was Geurtze an extraordinary aquatics teacher, but he also made time to be her career mentor. He helped her prepare to ace her Red Cross interview. “If anyone could make someone feel passionate about the Red Cross, it would be Don,” said Roulston.”
Summing up his career with the ARCNENY, Geurtze said, “It was an opportunity to give back to the community some of the things I’ve received over the years.”
But it seems that Geurtze isn’t done giving back just yet. After some rest and relaxation, spending time with his grandkids (ages 7, 9, and 12), and maybe some canoeing and kayaking in the Adirondacks, Geurtze fully intends to be back at the Red Cross. .. as a volunteer.
Geurtze’s love of the aquatics program will keep him involved, even in retirement. He will participate in the management of the Learn-to-Swim program at Albany’s Lincoln Park next summer, as well as serve on the regional Health & Safety Advisory Committee. He also hopes to go back to teaching aquatic life saving.
As Katie Roulston put it, “He lives, breathes, and eats the American Red Cross”.