by Andrea Phillips
The American Red Cross has been helping with the needs of military service members, veterans and their families for more than a century, a tradition that continues today because of volunteers like Louise Hansen.
Louise spent much of her life in the military and puts that knowledge and experience to good use as a Red Cross volunteer with the Southern Missouri Chapter working with the Services to the Armed Forces.
Recently, Louise was honored by the Missouri-Arkansas Region with the SAF Impact Award for innovative and exemplary efforts to help veterans and their families.
Over the past four years, she has helped coordinate the Veterans Fund of the Ozarks. During this time, those efforts have led to providing more than $72,000 to some 200 veterans and their families.
The pandemic hasn’t stopped her dedication. After transitioning to virtual casework, Louise continues to work with veterans, building bridges of resources to prevent homelessness and provide hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Those who work with Louise describe her with such adjectives as honorable, tenacious and driven. Her drive, knowledge and trust she has built in the community also led to her being elected the commander for the Women Veterans of Southwest Missouri American Legion Post 1214.
Louise’s story began in Marshfield, Missouri where she grew up with her mother, the youngest of four sisters and four brothers after her father died when she was only 4 years old.
After finishing high school in her hometown, Louise joined the Army and was assigned to the 76th Army Band based in Mannheim, Germany.
During the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, Louise played the clarinet as the band traveled extensively throughout Europe, including stops in Ireland, Germany and France. At one point, her mother and a sister followed the tour in Europe for two weeks so they could see Louise perform.
Among other highlights for Louise was playing at the Rose of Tralee Festival in Ireland and also at the Joan of Arc Festival in Orleans, France.
Discharged from active duty, Louise continued her love for the military in the Army Reserve, this time training in automotive maintenance management at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.
To change from music to mechanics didn’t strike Louise as strange.
“I grew up in a family of mechanics,” she said.
She finished her military career retiring as a captain with a reserve unit in Belton, Missouri. But the military wasn’t the only thing occupying Louise’s time.
Louise attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and received her undergraduate degree in agricultural business.
But Louise said she was “deeply affected” by her time in the military and that she and her family were changed after she lost a brother in Vietnam.
Louise has two issues close to her heart. The first is the need to help those leaving the military to adjust to civilian life which for many can be troublesome for a variety of reasons.
She recalled that when she left military life, Louise had no help in transitioning to civilian life, especially coping with the loss of her military social circle.
“It was challenging, emotionally and socially,” Louise said. “I want to be sure this generation has resources to address that need.”
The other issue for Louise is the need to be compassionate with homeless veterans she encounters in her Red Cross work.
“Each veteran has unique situations that need care, understanding and help,” said Louise, who draws on military experience to help her connect with veterans.
The adventures and rich experiences of her service-filled life have molded Louise into the person she is today – still serving and giving to those in need.