Julie Utschig, Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross, Colorado Springs, CO
“I suppose the year in Viet Nam, [particularly] my stint as the Unit Director in DaNang, gave me a view of myself as a leader,” reminisced Julie Henderson Utschig. In 1969, she had completed college in Michigan and traveled to California to teach, but they were not hiring out of state teachers. Utschig tried a few other jobs, before coming to the realization that she wanted to see the world. So she interviewed for a Red Cross recreation position in Viet Nam, despite there being “a war going on over there.” She got the job and was soon serving in Viet Nam as a donut dollie.
Donut dollies was an affectionate name given to the women who served overseas and made donuts for the U.S. armed forces during WWII and Korea. However, donut dollies did so much more for the troops than just serve donuts. Donut dollies were in Viet Nam, but they didn't serve donutsthere. Donut dollies brought these servicemen “a touch of home.” Their main job was to create programs to entertain the troops. They made their own props, fit them into a green duffle-like bag, and then paired up to visit 8-10 fighting units a day, usually spending one hour with each unit. “We flew in helicopters to bases, rode in jeeps, trucks, … any way we could [travel] ... to do our programs based on television quiz shows and board games, said Utschig.
Go forward 40 years later, Utschig, a realtor by profession, felt the need to help others through volunteer service. In her own words, “[I] felt I needed to volunteer, and it made sense to return to the Red Cross.” So she is now a Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteer for the Pikes Peak Chapter. “Why am I a Red Cross volunteer? It began with a feeling I had to get back, and it continues because you feel good about what you do.”
A realtor by profession, now instead of standing in front of 100 soldiers, Utschig stands in front of families that have lost homes to fires and other disasters. But, handling adversity was something she learned during her Viet Nam assignment, so in 2012 when the wildfire in Waldo Canyon, Colorado Springs, destroyed 347 homes, Utschig knew how to swiftly spring into action to help the devastated families.
She was one of the first Red Crossers on site to assess the damage of homes lost in the fire. She and her team were given addresses of homes. “It was heartbreaking. We had to talk to residents and ask is this where your house stood? ... What is the address? But, the Red Cross was there to assist them and hopefully lightening the burden, so the disaster happenings were easier to bear. Utschig remarked that seeing people help one another to recover after a disaster has struck reinforces her belief in “the goodness of human nature.”
In another fire that happened a few years ago, Utschig remembered meeting a couple physically and emotionally crippled by a fire in Woodland Park that consumed their house - “I met them at the hotel. They had no clothes, no food, no money, and no medications. [And, adding to their heartache, they had just lost a beloved pet.] We helped them [get back on their feet], and I always felt that they were better off for me and my partner having been there.”