Six Decades of Service: Red Cross Volunteer, Bill Murgas, Shares Experiences over the Years!

By Max Seigle

At his home in Brookfield, Bill Murgas still has his first American Red Cross Membership Card from 1956.

There are more cards from the 1970’s, showing his Red Cross certifications to teach
Advanced First Aid and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR.

MURGAS 1956 CARD.jpg

Murgas’s 1956 Red Cross Membership card!

Above his fireplace, the mantle is a white oak beam that was once part of a Dodge County barn destroyed in a tornado. The farmer gave the beam to Murgas as a token of his appreciation for disaster assistance.

These signs of service around his house are just a taste of a steadfast devotion to the Red Cross. This past March, Murgas, who is 85, marked 60 years as a volunteer and donor. “One thing that I’ve talked to kids about all these years and I live myself is that service is the price you pay for the space you occupy,” Murgas said during an interview with Red Cross Public Affairs.

Murgas started teaching that motto to kids after returning home in 1956 from military service in Europe. He became an advisor for an Explorers unit in Wauwatosa and formed his first link with the Red Cross. “My goal was to make an emergency service post and that was the place to start,” he said.

Murgas said Red Cross instructors taught the Explorers Basic and Advanced First Aid and CPR. He recalled the volunteers as “very professional, very friendly (and) very knowledgable.” He would later become one of them, joining the Red Cross First Aid Corps (now called the First Aid Service Team).

“We provided First Aid at various civic events, like the South Shore Frolic (and) Summerfest,” he said. “Anyone who wanted Red Cross presence would contact the Red Cross and they’d be assigned to it.”

The First Aid Corps also served at the South Milwaukee Festival of Music and Milwaukee’s 4th of July parade. Murgas remembers setting up large tents with the Red Cross name on them. Volunteers helped marchers and performers with everything from heat exhaustion to cases of the jitters.

“If you’ve been to those things in the summer, if one of the ladies or the girls gets panicky and passes out, it’s amazing how it spreads,” he said.


Murgas’s CPR card from 1977!

As a certified First Aid and CPR instructor for the Red Cross, Murgas estimates teaching courses to several hundred people over the years. He also helped form and serve on the State Red Cross Service Council, which brought together chapter representatives for idea-sharing and developing state-wide projects. Loads of disaster response work marked his tenure, too.

“We had a nice system, we could make a telephone tree and in 45 minutes our group was on the road with all the equipment we needed,” he said.

Murgas was part of the Red Cross response after a deadly tornado in the Village of Lomira in Dodge County in 1996. His crew, of about 30 to 40 people, spent the day on a farm helping with clean-up and rescuing cattle.

“We got to this farm and a tornado went down three sides of (the owner’s) 40 acres, it was eerie,” he said. The twister “knocked down his barn on top of the cattle and we had chain saws, we had wenches and we raised the stuff off of the cows and saved (them).”

Murgas remembers the farmer in tears but grateful for the Red Cross assistance.

“He was so thankful, he gave me a beam off his barn, that’s a white oak beam that goes back probably a hundred years and we lugged that thing home and it became my mantle,” he said.


Murgas standing nex to his mantle, a gift from a farmer to show his appreciate of disaster relief assistance.

Now a part of his home, Murgas can’t help but remember that day in Lomira when he looks at the mantle. He also has vivid memories of an ice storm in Hartland in Waukesha County in 1976.

“Trees were all over the place, trees and wires,” he said.

“We went up with chain saws to clear the road because the whole place was blocked and the fire department needed access, so we chain-sawed our way through the main street in town.”

These days, the 85-year-old admits he’s moving a little slower and can’t do the disaster response calls. But he remains active. Murgas is a Lifetime Honorary Board Member of the Red Cross and serves on the Finance Committee. He also helps out at events promoting the organization’s mission.

If you stop by the headquarters for the Southeast Wisconsin Chapter in Milwaukee, you’ll see some of Murgas’ financial support. He donated the funding for an Education Wing there. Since it opened, he loves seeing the classrooms filled with volunteers and staff.

“It furthered the mission of the Red Cross and it was the right thing to do,” he said.

We asked Murgas what’s kept him going for six decades. He said it all starts with that motto he mentioned earlier, “Service is the price you pay for the space you occupy.” Then, there’s the personal gain he gets from giving back.

“The biggest reward is when somebody turns to you in times of distress and they’re hurting and say thank you, Wow, you know that’s big,” he said.

Murgas encourages people to get out there and give back to organizations, like the Red Cross. He says, not only can you make a difference, but life-long friends with fellow volunteers along the way.

“Plus, you get to know so many people, and they are all good people,” he said.


Murgas’s Red Cross Certification Cards


Heroes 2016 Musicales: Another Resounding Success!

By Vicki Jenks, Volunteer of the American Red Cross

On a picture-perfect Saturday, April 30th in “wild” Wild Rose the 9 th annual HEROES 2016 Musicales were “over the top” in every conceivable way. Well over 200 guests experienced world-class music, dined on delectable hors d’ oeuvres and refreshments and bid high on 300 silent auction treasures.


Art Stevenson & High Water

Art Stevenson & High Water Wisconsin’s Best Bluegrass Band, Harmonious Wail the Midwest’s Finest Gypsy Jazz Trio and Jodie DeSalvo Carnegie Hall piano virtuoso & Faye Seeman well-known Chicago harpist, graced the musical stage. The day began with the Wild Rose American Legion Post #370 posting all five service branch flags and the US colors. Additionally, all three Musicales began with the Pledge of Allegiance and ended with the everyone singing “Amazing Grace” and “America, the Beautiful.”

Begun in 2008 as a small concert presented by co-founders John and Vicki Jenks, a grand total of $3,308.39 was raised. Now the year-round activities, sponsorships, Musicale tickets sales and silent auction raises around $60,000! HEROES Musicales gifts will be utilized for Local Disaster Relief & Preparedness and Service to the Armed Forces in the counties of Waushara, Green Lake, Marquette and Waupaca.

SAVE THE DATE: HEROES 2017—Saturday, April 29th !!
Musicians to be announced later this summer.



Vickie L. Detert (4/30/16)

A worthy cause; a glorious day;

a caring crowd, willing to pay

to just sit back, relax and share

as wondrous music fills the air.

And from the gifts gathered here

help goes out both far and near

to those in need, who’ve suffered loss

of health, of friends, families or homes.

That is what life is meant to be.

Let all mankind show charity,

to help when needed and lend a hand,

from heart to heart, throughout all lands.

See more photos here: 9th Annual Heroes Musicales

Partnerships & Volunteers Save Lives In Brown County!

Brown County Fire Rally Brought Volunteers and Partners Together to Save Lives

By Dawn Miller, American Red Cross Volunteer


Excitement was brewing at the Ashwaubenon High School as American Red Cross members and more than 150 volunteers from across Wisconsin came together on April 23, 2016 for the Brown County Fire Rally. All with one large goal in mind, to make Brown County families safer by installing up to 1000 smoke alarms.


“I was feeling excited and anxious as everyone gathered in the gymnasium because of all the work the team put into making this event happen,” said Nick Cluppert, Disaster Program Manager and the event coordinator. “It was great to finally see the event happen after months of planning. We had people from different Red Cross departments help pull together specifics, and we couldn’t have done it without lots of community partners including the Salvation Army, Public Health, Human Services, food pantries, multiple Fire Departments, local businesses and more,” said Nick.  Sponsors of the event included: State Farm, Festival Foods, Nature’s Way, United Way 2-1-1 and the American Red Cross – Tiffany Circle


Volunteers registered and received supplies, including stepladders, 10-year lithium battery smoke alarms and Snap-on tool bags with a drill, bits, screwdrivers and safety goggles. Volunteers also watched the ‘how to install an alarm’ video and now had an opportunity to practice on the installation wall.

Steve Hansen, Chapter Executive, and Nick spoke to the group on what to expect and the importance of the smoke alarm rally. The effort is part of an ongoing, five-year campaign by the American Red Cross to reduce deaths and injuries caused by home fires by 25 percent. A working smoke alarm can increase chances of survival by 50%.


Steve Hansen, Chapter Executive, speaks to excited volunteers and partners to kick off Brown County Fire Rally

Paul Hajny, a fire survivor, spoke to the group about a fire he and his wife, Jenna, were in five years ago. Paul who is now very conscious smoke alarms and fire safety, he shared how important it was that they reach residents who might not be thinking about fire safety. “I never thought it would happen, but it happened,” says Paul.


Four person teams received maps of pre-canvassed areas that were identified by local fire departments as higher risk areas. Paul and Jenna were part of a team that went door-to-door to install smoke alarms in an effort to save lives. After a few unanswered doors, Karen flagged them down to install alarms in her home. They checked alarms for Darla whose small stature and age made it unwise for her to climb on a stepladder to check them. The team assured her that all alarms were in working order. They installed brand new alarms for James, a veteran, whose alarms were well over 10-years-old and had yellowed with age.


Jenna, American Red Cross Volunteer, talks with Karen about her new smoke alarm and fire safety while Kathleen, American Red Cross Volunteer, documents the alarms installed.

At every house, they shared information on fire safety, checked smoke alarms and, if they weren’t working, installed batteries or new alarms. “People were very appreciative,” said Jenna Hajny. “These days it’s hard to let people in your home but they were very welcoming.”

They were also welcomed in by Judy whose family was getting ready for a birthday party for her young daughter.  After installing alarms the volunteers were invited back to join the party when they finished their route but they had much ground to cover.

After finishing their designated route, the volunteers were flagged down by a Grandma to install alarms in the home of her daughter’s family, setting them in the direction of another area that needed smoke alarms.

“I was surprised at how many homes didn’t have working smoke alarms,” said Paul. Some homes had no alarms, some were pulled off the walls, missing batteries or not working.

“There was one house with four alarms and none of them were plugged in,” said Paul. After installing four new alarms, they shared fire safety and escape plan information with the family which included young children.


American Red Cross Members, Volunteers and Partners hit the streets in precanvassed areas to install alarms.

This one team installed 18 alarms and restored others to working order by installing batteries. Together, all teams installed 857 smoke alarms and 61 batteries so now there are now 918 more working smoke alarms just in Brown County. They also raised much awareness across the community to make sure residents know about fire safety.

Paul and Jenna were both happy to give back after the American Red Cross had helped them after their fire and were thankful to be part of such a great group of volunteers. “It’s good to know there are good resources in the community and people who want to help,” said Paul.

“I think we can all rest well tonight. We walked a lot, did what we could,” said Jenna. “I hope it (a fire) never happens but if it does they have working alarms.”

“Having a working smoke alarm can save a life,” says Barbara Behling, American Red Cross Spokesperson. “Statistically, having installed more than 1,000 alarms in April, we saved a life.” Neighbors, and anyone in Wisconsin, who needs a smoke alarm, can visit to request them.


To see more photos from this event visit albums on flickr and facebook. 

Home Fire: You Never Think It Can Happen

Fire Survivor Warns it Can Happen

By Dawn Miller, American Red Cross Volunteer

Flames were shooting out of windows just 10 ft from his apartment after Paul Hajny made it outside and was looking back at his apartment building. “That’s when it really got real,” says Paul.


The Green Bay Fire Department and American Red Cross were on the scene quickly.

Just moments before, he was in his apartment watching T.V. with his fiancée, Jenna, and his roommate at the time. The smell of something like burning bacon and the noise of a fire alarm were nuisance to the relaxing evening. “I just thought it was someone cooking,” says Paul.

When the alarm didn’t stop making noise, Paul got up to see what was going on. When he opened the door smoke, just poured into the apartment. “I closed the door and we grabbed our cats and backpacks,” says Paul.

It all happened fast and they got out of the building quickly. Looking at the flames, Paul says he realized how important smoke alarms are. “Every house, every apartment should have one,” says Paul.

The Fire Department was on scene right away and doused the apartment buildings, putting out the fire. The residents of the six-unit apartment, including Paul and his roommate, were displaced because of damage. The building was found to be beyond repair and was demolished shortly after.


Fire Damage was extensive and tenants had to find alternate housing.

The American Red Cross was also on the scene right away providing comfort and covering basic needs. Paul says they were calm and supportive in a very high stress and high trauma event for the residents. “They took care of all physical and emotional needs,” says Paul

“They thought of everything,” says Paul. “I could tell it wasn’t their first rodeo and I could sense that, which made me calmer.”

Along with lodging options and food, blankets made by volunteers were also provided.  “It was this wonderful handmade quilt and I still have it hanging in my living room,” says Paul.

5 years later, Paul and Jenna are now married. They are now homeowners and soon to be parents who are conscious of being prepared in the event of a fire. He says they have carbon monoxide detectors/smoke alarms along with fire extinguishers in each room. “It has definitely changed my mindset.”

“I never thought it would happen but it happened,” says Paul.

Paul encourages others to check alarms and if residents are in need of an alarm to visit to request an alarm.    “We never have enough time but if someone is willing to help,” says Paul “Why wouldn’t you want to help your family?”

If you or someone you know are in need of smoke alarms, go to or call toll free at 888-231-3590 to have a FREE smoke alarm installed.  The Red Cross will need to know the name, address  & phone number. Also, by request, there are some bed shaker alarms for people that are deaf.