Volunteer Spotlight: Brother & Sister Disaster Duo: Joe Gerrits & Mary Roellchen

(l-r) Disaster Team Members participating in 9/11fundraiser: Jan Traversa, Barb Flanigan, Carrie Carlson, and Mary Roellchen

National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, is a time to celebrate volunteers. This year’s theme, Celebrating People in Action, aptly describes volunteers from Northeast Wisconsin. Red Cross volunteers are doers. Red Cross volunteers are people in action. Learn more about some of the amazing people who give of their time, talent, money and blood to support the organization.

Mary Roellchen joined the American Red Cross after the tragedies of September 11, 2001. She was watching the news and wanted to do something more than simply make a monetary donation.  She attended an informational meeting that the Red Cross was having, signed up, went through disaster response training, and has been a volunteer ever since. 

Within her first year at the Red Cross, Mary became a team lead. As a disaster team lead, Mary is on call about every 6-7 weeks and during that time, if her pager goes off, she puts her personal life on hold, and answers the call to help.

As part of the disaster team Mary has responded to many national assignments including the tragedies of September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 WI flooding.  Locally, Mary has been on site for some large disaster situations including the explosion in Ellison Bay in 2006, Lakewood tornado of 2007, and many structure fires.  

Being on the Disaster Team is exciting, and at times emotional.  “One thing that really sticks out for me is seeing people come out to help people they don’t know in times of a disaster, said Mary.  “You tend to see the best in people during these times.”

Grilling brats on the 4th at the Festival Foods Fire Over the Fox (l-r) Rich Hermans, Joe Gerrits, Larry Staszak and Steve Maricque

Her brother Joe Gerrits, became a registered volunteer with the American Red Cross in 2010, after helping for many special events with his sister, Mary. He is now a trained disaster team member and responds to calls with his sister.    

The Disaster response team also works pre and post deployment events for the military units in the area. “The thing that stands out most for me at these events is how grateful the military personnel are when we are the ones that owe them and others like them for the freedoms we enjoy every day,” said Joe.

What is the best part of being a volunteer?  According to Mary its “Helping someone that needs assistance through no fault of their own.  I know I made an impact when someone says to me I never knew what the Red Cross did, but I am going to start donating to them, or how can I get involved with the Red Cross?”

Her brother Joe agrees.  The best part of being a volunteer is “helping people when they really need it.”