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Nebraska Native and Red Cross Legend Receives Presidential Honor

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"The Red Cross lets people take a management type role in the organization"

For nearly 55 years, Frank Richter, or F.J. as he prefers to be called, has been rolling up his sleeves to make a difference through volunteering with the American Red Cross.

To say he has accomplished this goal would be an understatement which is why he is honored to accept the prestigious Presidential Volunteer Service Award.

“I started volunteering with the Red Cross right after high school by driving blood in 1961,” recalled Richter.

F.J.’s father, Edmund Richter, instilled the importance of helping others by being a dedicated blood donor. “The blood mobile would come to Spencer I think three times a year, and they came to the Catholic Church and Dad always gave blood. Even if he was working in the field, Dad would take time to come inside get cleaned-up, go into town to give blood.”

F.J.’s very first job was at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha where he worked as a night orderly. He recalls seeing donations of blood brought into hospitals and being assigned to help specific patients. “I would go over to the blood center at 38th and Dewey. It was in a big Victorian house at that time and I said, ‘you need a volunteer’.”

He was hooked to helping his community through the Red Cross.

As a fashion forward young man, F.J. transitioned out of hospital service to work in retail at Brandeis Clothing Store. Ultimately, fashion took a back seat to rolling up a sleeve and giving aid.

“I always stayed active with the Red Cross from 1961 all the way through. Even when I worked at Brandeis I was still donating blood and was still delivering blood on my days off.”

The young man tried to keep track of his volunteer hours, but he lost count after 26,000.

Brandeis promoted him to manager of the store in Grand Island. During his stint as manager, F.J. accepted volunteer leadership positions at the Red Cross. “I was disaster chairman in Grand Island I think for four to five years and I think chapter chairman for two to three years and then went back to disaster chairman until I got married in 1983.”

It wasn’t until the Nebraska based clothing store extended his hours on the weekends and holidays that F.J. decided to make a career change. In 1969 Richter accepted a job at the Red Cross.  To him working weekends and holidays for the Red Cross wasn’t an issue because he knew he was making a bigger impact.

Since joining the Red Cross, F.J. has served on 64 national disaster operations. Many of those were major bruises from Mother Nature such as: the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989; Tropical Storm Danielle in 1992; Typhoons Hunt and Gay that hit the Marshall Islands in 1992; Hurricane Andrew in 1992; Hurricane Erin in 1995; Hurricane Felix in 1996; Oklahoma Tornadoes in 1995; Alaska Air Crash in 2000; and several flooding operations in Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada and New York.

F.J. has also served a vital role during 16 National Conventions including the 2008 Republican National Convention in 2008. Additionally, he served a six-month assignment as the Head of Sub-Delegation in Port Sudan, Sudan.

Richter’s roles have moved the American Red Cross mission forward. As a paid staff member, he was responsible for processing allocating anywhere from 12 to 20 million dollars a year. Serving as a disaster services reserve, he would support finance or logistics, meaning his team would oversee where supplies such as meals, cots, blankets, etc., would go during a disaster response.

 In 2006, F.J. retired his paid position and became a full time volunteer. For many, retirement means slowing down.  For F.J. it meant full steam ahead.

As a volunteer, Richter worked Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., sometimes putting in extra time before or after official office hours. And his job as a volunteer didn’t change much from what he was getting paid to do. Richter says, “I think they let people take a management type role in the organization if you stay within the boundaries and the guidelines. Not many places you can go and do purchasing and stuff as a volunteer.”

His most memorable job that he did as a volunteer:

“I worked the Omaha Tornado for almost a week in 1975.  My sister and brother-in-law lost almost everything they owned in the tornado.”

Longest disaster job that he worked:

“The longest job I worked was the Northern California Earthquake in L.A. I think I was on that job for just over 3 years. I moved my wife and daughter from San Francisco to D.C. and then I went back to close up the emergency phase and start the recovery phase.”

For Richter, being named the 2015 Presidential Volunteer Service Award recipient is another title that he proudly wears along with: Kentucky Colonel; Honorary Dukes of Hazards; and Nebraska Admiral. A title of honor he will proudly accept knowing he’s served his community down the street, across the country and around the world through the American Red Cross.