By Gordon Williams, Northwest Region Volunteer
Early on Thanksgiving morning, around 2,000 residents of Washington's Tri-Cities will line up for the start of the 20th annual Turkey Trot in Kennewick, Washington. The foot race — rebranded this year as the Run for the Red — is both a cherished community event and a major fund-raiser for the American Red Cross.
This year’s goal of “Run for the Red” is to raise $85,000 for the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Home Fire aims to save lives by installing smoke alarms in homes that lack them. Red Cross figures show more than 1,200 lives saved by Home Fire — where people survived a home fire because a smoke alarm installed by Red Cross volunteers alerted them early enough to escape the danger.
It will be a special day for two Tri-Cities residents. Red Cross volunteer Don Wicks of Richland WA will be helping out at the event, as he has each and every year since it began in 2003. Asked what he will do at this year’s Run for the Red, he says, “A little bit of everything. Whatever they ask me to do.”
Also taking part will be Michele Roth, executive director of the Red Cross Central and Southeastern Washington chapter, based in Kennewick. Roth says she and her four children took part in the Turkey Trot for years before she joined the Red Cross.
“I remember one year when both my sons won the race for their age groups and brought home a pumpkin pie and a gingerbread house,” she said. “This year the tradition will continue by marking my youngest’s 19th Turkey Trot, and my nine-month-old grandbaby's first.”
Wicks was among the first to volunteer when the first Turkey Trot was run. “Now It’s the biggest road race in the Tri-Cities, but in the first year we did not have a great many people show up,” he says. He pitched in where needed at that first run and has been pitching in every year since.
He has served on the board planning the race. He brought cases of water to the watering stations along the route and made coffee and hot chocolate for the crowd. Part of the race goes along a riverbank, and Wicks has put up fencing to keep runners from tumbling into the water. This year, he says, he will carry supplies, make signs and make sure the watering stations are well supplied.
At age 84, Wicks won't run in the event this year. Over the years, though, he has run 38 marathons and completed runs as long as 15,000 meters (over nine miles). His last marathon was in 1995 in Portland OR. Volunteering for the Red Cross is far from the first time Wicks has served others. He spent 30 years in the U.S. Army, mostly in Armored units. His job, he says, was as a cavalry scout. “I went out and found the enemy and reported back,” he says. He served in posts all over the world, taught cavalry tactics to service members and even served a hitch as Army drill sergeant.
Wicks retired from the Army in 1988. He had first volunteered for the Red Cross when he was still in the Army, stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky which is home base for the Armor Corps. “I had some down time, so I went to the Red Cross and offered to help wherever they needed help,” he says. When he was transferred to Germany he helped out in an office the American Red Cross had there.
Wicks joined the Red Cross in the Tri-Cities after he retired from the Army, and has served the organization in many ways. He deployed to both hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. He led his chapter’s Disaster Response Team for many years. He helped care for the chapter's motor vehicles, helped with chapter logistics, community relations and worked with the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces (SAF) program.
Executive Director Roth, meanwhile, has a lot riding on this year’s Run for the Red. “This is our chapter’s only fund-raising event, and all proceeds support the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign,” she says. “The goal is big, and thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and participants we are well on our way to making this the best year ever.”
Pre-COVID, the event drew as many as 3,000 runners. It existed as a virtual event for two years but went live again in 2022. Some 1,800 runners took part last year and over 2,000 are expected this year. More than 100 Red Cross volunteers, including Wicks, will assist this year. Roth and her family will be helping out as they have been for many years. “We all knew Thanksgiving dinner prep wasn’t happening until the race was complete," she says. “I never thought this fun-run would one day become part of my job.”