The American Red Cross has always been a part of Jackie Walters’ life. Her mother, Adele Werthessen Murton, was a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteer before Jackie was born, and continued this calling into her 60s.
“I literally grew up with the Red Cross,” Walters says. “I learned to expect that no holiday dinner would be served on time, and that the phone often rang in the middle of the night.”
Walters followed her mother’s compelling example. Much of her adult life, Walters has also been a Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces staff member, providing Red Cross services to veterans, members of the military and their families.
Setting the Example
Walters says her mother was fearless and determined. Anxious to join the war effort, Murton volunteered with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. Joining the Red Cross underscores Murton’s courage; she was a polio victim and no doubt had to do a lot of talking to land a job in which she would be sent to a war zone.
When working for the Red Cross, as soon as she got close enough to her parents’ hometown, Vianden, Luxembourg, Murton hitched a ride on a horse-drawn cart with a childhood friend to check on her aunt, who had refused to evacuate as the German army retreated through the Ardennes. The apocryphal family story is that Murton was the first Amercian in uniform to “liberate” Vianden.
The Red Cross deployed Murton, an occupational therapist, to the European Theater in December 1943 where she was assigned to the 1st General Hospital. She spent the next 21 months providing recreational activities for wounded soldiers at Army hospitals in England and in France.
In a January 2, 1944, letter from Paris she writes to her family, “We wrapped enough presents to last me for a lifetime and then some. However it did add a little sunshine to the lives of the patients, and to our enlisted men and officers, it showed that the American Red Cross is on the ball.”
While in England Murton met her future husband, Jim Murton, assigned to the same General Hospital. Following the war they married and settled in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Jim Murton’s hometown.
In Johnstown, Adele Murton joined the Red Cross chapter and spent decades helping military stay in touch with their families during a crisis, and completing casework to help veterans and their families receive the benefits they deserve.
“Mom devoted her life to serving veterans through the American Red Cross,” her daughter comments. “Even on Christmas Day, she would leave the house and go to the chapter to write a check if she had to. The whole family understood—it was her work.”
Carrying On the Tradition
Service to the Armed Forces is also Jackie Walters’ work. She learned the value of that service from her mother. “In my mind, as a Navy wife, there is only one right organization to work for,” she says, “and that’s the Red Cross.”
“When I married,” Walters recalls, “I made a pact with my husband. I would work when needed, but when we could afford it, I would be a Red Cross volunteer.”
Walters, also a law librarian, did work periodically for pay, and she got a graduate degree. But when she talks about her career, she discusses her work with Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces.
Her real career opportunities have been at the Red Cross. Volunteering for an organization that is a firm believer in the concept of volunteer-employee partnerships catapulted Walters into the highest levels of national leadership.
Walters started as a Red Cross clinic volunteer at Philadelphia Naval Hospital, where her husband was stationed in the early 1970s. Her husband transferred to Camp Lejeune and she again volunteered at the Naval hospital.
When Walters’ husband was sent to the Navy installation at Bremerton, Washington, Walters volunteered as a Service to the Armed Forces case worker. It wasn’t long before she received promotions—to chair of volunteers, and then to chair of the Bremerton Red Cross station.
As Red Cross station chair, Walters was the volunteer counterpart to the paid station manager, and was engaged in managing every aspect of the office, from providing services to military members and their families to project development to the recruiting and management of volunteers.
“I probably wouldn’t have been hired to do that job,” Walters smiles. She says that the manager of Red Cross Western operations at the time was a firm believer in the volunteer-employee partnership concept. “The Red Cross gave me a lot of training and a lot of opportunity.”
Her husband’s transfer to Germany opened new Red Cross volunteer opportunities. “To serve the Red Cross overseas is a big learning experience,” Walters says. She volunteered as a Service to the Armed Forces case worker; soon she was promoted to station chair. She received another promotion, to volunteer chair of the Service to the Armed Forces HUB, or region, at nearby Ramstein Air Base.
When the couple came back to the states, Walters worked for the Red Cross for the first time as a paid employee—in Service to Armed Forces operations. She left that job to go back to working as a law librarian, but she stayed on at the Red Cross as a volunteer, helping plan conferences.
It wasn’t long before Walters was again volunteering full-time for the Red Cross, this time in her dream job—national Service to the Armed Forces Operations chair. Partner to the senior director of operations for Service to the Armed Forces, Kay Walton, Walters shared responsibility for management of a global network of employees and volunteers.
Walters spent the next three years travelling all over world, meeting lots of people and promoting volunteer-employee partnerships. Walters focused on volunteer leadership development and training for all Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces volunteers. “With Kay’s support, a lot of things changed for the better,” Walters says, “I feel I made a real contribution.”
A couple years ago Walters chaired a Red Cross committee that recommended changes to the Service to the Armed Forces policy manual, known as the 1295. The committee found a need to redo Service to the Armed Forces training. When a training job was posted, Walters applied—she got the job. A senior associate for training, Walters is drawing on the many lessons she learned as a volunteer to develop new training and get it implemented in the field.
“This training job brings me full circle,” Walters says. Her mother was an old-fashioned case worker who went by the book. “If you have a question, go to the 1295,” she would say. Revising the policy manual on which her mother relied so heavily is a labor of love for Walters. There was always a copy around the house when she was a kid.
“My mom taught me a lot about being a Red Cross volunteer,” Walters says. “She really cared about the clients.” Walters goes on to explain how much her mother did to help Johnstown, Pennsylvania, veterans during the 50s and the 60s. Murton even did home visits when a veteran could not get to the Red Cross office.
Murton also cared about the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Network, such as the Fundamental Principle of Impartiality. A unit of African-American soldiers attended a Red Cross dance in England during World War II. Some women refused to dance with the men, but not Walters’ mother. “Those soldiers were in U. S. military uniforms, and my job was to provide recreation for members of the military,” Murton asserted.
The legacy of service Murton left her daughter inspired Walters to do more than assist the military. Walters was also a disaster volunteer and is a blood donor. She tries to know about all the services the Red Cross provides while fulfilling its mission to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Murton taught her daughter to take advantage of every opportunity offered, to take on more responsibility and to assert yourself as a volunteer, as an equal. “Never say ‘just a volunteer’,” Walters cautions.
“Being a Red Cross volunteer is a career,” Walters summarizes, “The Red Cross has invested in me and given me opportunities that I never would have imagined possible. There is no question where my loyalty lies.”