‘Gwen T. Jackson Day’ sights and proclamation

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

May 28 was proclaimed “Gwen T. Jackson Day” in Milwaukee County, a recognition of her tireless decades of volunteerism and community service. That included more than 60 years with the American Red Cross, in roles that ranged from famine relief for Africa, support of U.S. service members and expansion of diversity in volunteerism, to the highest ranks for a volunteer in the organization, as National Volunteer Chairman in Washington, D.C.

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Mark Thomas shares reflections on Gwen Jackon’s impact on Milwaukee and the nation as a volunteer leader with the American Red Cross.

To honor Gwen T. Jackson Day on what would have been her 91st birthday, organizations close to Gwen’s legacy of work gathered on Tuesday to share stories, food and her spirit of community service. Our hope is to build upon Gwen’s legacy to create an annual day that acknowledges volunteerism and community action across Milwaukee.

“As someone who grew up in this community and spent much of my professional career here, I know I’m able to be the CEO of the Red Cross because [of] someone like Gwen Jackson,” said Mark Thomas, CEO and Southeast Chapter Executive.


There are numerous ways you can use your talents toward good in the Milwaukee area. Click here to find out more.


In this blog are a few pictures from the event, which included Red Cross and United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, which was held at one of her favorite art galleries and community spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studio. In addition, we’ve included the full proclamation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

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During an event held in her honor, Gwen Jackson pictures and momentos were on display at one of her favorite spaces, King Drive Commons Gallery and Studios.

Executive Proclamation

Whereas, on May 28, 1928, Gwen T. Jackson was entered this earth and on March 24, 2019, at the age of 90, Gwen T. Jackson was born into eternal life; and

Whereas, we now take time to recognize the loss of an important member of not only our community but also a loving mother, daughter, wife, sister and friend; and

Whereas, we will never forget Gwen’s civic leadership and commitments to our community. Gwen retired as a Human Resources Vice President from Brills Colony Men’s Clothing Store. Her volunteer service includes time with the United Way, Urban League, YMCA, and more than 60 years of volunteering with the American Red Cross. Gwen held the National Chairman Volunteer position for four years with the American Red Cross, the highest volunteer position available; and

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Milwaukee disaster action team volunteers serve food and listen in during drumming played at a Gwen T. Jackson Day event in Milwaukee.

Whereas, in addition to volunteering for disaster relief, Gwen dedicated service to our most vulnerable populations – senior citizens and children. Gwen served as Commissioner Emeritus of the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging, and worked to improve the educational outcomes of young people in Milwaukee, having 21st Street School renamed the Gwen T. Jackson Early Childhood Elementary School; and

Whereas, Gwen’s effervescent spirit, perpetual optimism, unending loyalty and constant cheer were a blessing to everyone around her,

I, Chris Abele, do hereby proclaim May 28, 2019 as Gwen T. Jackson Day throughout Milwaukee County, and I offer my support to the family and friends of Gwen as well as appreciation for her positive contributions to Milwaukee County.

Volunteer Spotlight: Tom & Cathy Harrison – Sharing the Love of it All

By Dawn Miller, Red Cross Volunteer

You can tell by looking at Tom and Cathy Harrison that they are not only best friends, but soul mates and they have that same kind of devotion to the volunteer work that they do at the Red Cross.

“My wife got me started in community service and working with the Red Cross,” Tom explained. “We have been doing things together and volunteering is a natural fit for us. She is fun to work and play with.”  

Tom and Cathy volunteer in many ways at the Red Cross. They both drive for the Lakeland Chapter Transportation Services once a week. During Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma, they became trained in disaster work and went down to Florida to help on their first national assignment. They are also on call locally week every five to six weeks from 6pm to 6am Monday to Friday and 24/7 on the weekend. They help out with special events and provide volunteers for three to four blood drives a year.

“The Red Cross gives us ways to give back for the beautiful life we have been given.  When you see a crisis on TV and say, ‘wish I could help’, the Red Cross gives us the training and opportunity to really help people,” Cathy said and added. “We are just ordinary people but through the Red Cross we can help make things better for people in our community.  Helping by collecting blood, by serving cookies to donors, driving people to doctor appointment, or giving a fire victim a hug and a warm quilt can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

She went on to point out that giving back is important, “We make time for the Red Cross because we have had a great life and have been very blessed.”

Before retiring, Tom spent 24 years is the Army and was honorably discharged as First Sergeant while Cathy worked at Georgia Pacific. The two have two children, including Paul who lives with his wife, Kris, and their three children in Suamico, WI and Scott who lives in Chicago, IL.

While growing up, both Cathy and Tom learned the importance of giving back to the community. While at Georgia Pacific, Cathy made sure to do just that since she helped organize blood drives at the company for over 30 years.  

“My mom was a blood drive volunteer coordinator so I knew how to organize a drive at work, I asked management if we could try it and they agreed but only if the volunteers took vacation time to work at the blood drive,” Cathy said. “Georgia Pacific provided great cookies and nice refreshments for the drives plus a great area to have the drive. We drew about 100 units at each drive.”.

Since they are both retired they also have time to have fun outside of volunteering. They love to dance including country and ballroom. Cathy even went skydiving on her 47th birthday and they also belong to a Corvette Club.

“We love to travel, any where, any time.  We can be packed for an adventure in no time at all,” Cathy said.  “This past summer we joined eight other Corvettes on a 4000-mile cruise out to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.  It was a great 14 days and we were still talking to each other when we got home, remember a corvette is a very small car.”

It is clear that this couple truly loves one another, as seen by everything that they do together, especially all the volunteer work that they do.

“We have been married 45 years. We have stayed best friends because we started out as friends first and then realized we loved each other,” Cathy said. “He is the most supportive and carrying person I know.  He makes being married to him easy and fun and I would do it again tomorrow.”

Red Cross Mad Libs: Volunteering is (adjective).

Youth Blogger: Hannah B. Junior at Bayport High School

“Volunteering is good for college.”

Creative, right? Truthfully though, that’s what went through my naïve freshman head as my friends and I signed up for my school’s Youth Service Learning (YSL) group my first year of high school.  The goal is to complete 160 hours of community service within a student’s 4 years of high school—it sounds like a lot.  Realistically 40 hours a year, isn’t too terrible especially considering there is no huge pressure to complete more than a few hours every few months.  Other than having to face our arduous but kind-hearted advisor, who can be relatively scary if you forget to “log your hours” or accidently forget about an event (Which we all know, happens), volunteering 40 hours a year is a piece of cake.

I’ve volunteered at Packer Games by handing out free items as fans enter the stadium and helped out at community runs as well.  Neither of these was awfully hard, which made me feel a little guilty about logging service hours.  I mean, shouldn’t volunteering be more work than this? This spring I attended a three-day leadership seminar where we were given a new challenge—100 hours within the next year.  This, I knew, was going to be much more difficult.  That’s when I decided to become involved with the Red Cross.

I figured volunteering at the Red Cross would mean helping out at blood drives.  When I was sent an application to fill out I was asked what category I’d like to help in, with options such as “transportation.”  Later at my orientation I learned what that meant.  Embarrassingly, I had no idea that Red Cross volunteers will pick up disabled or senior citizens in the area to drive them to various appointments.  I had also forgotten about the Red Cross’s focus on disaster prevention and preparation.  Although this intrigues me, my options are considerably limited being under the age of 18.

I admit I was nervous for my orientation, but Jody, the Volunteer and Communications Director, was very easy to talk to.  I was surprised when I mentioned my interest in journalism and she suddenly suggested that I write articles for the Red Cross from a teen’s perspective.  (And I thought handing out water to runners was easy!) This helped me come to realize that volunteering isn’t just about having so many people signed up to help with different events but it can be much more personalized than that.  The fact that people’s varying  abilities and interests can be used to help others in unique ways is really exciting.  I think it’s especially important that teens realize this because no matter what way you can help out, it’s rewarding.

Volunteering is surprising.  And who doesn’t like a good surprise?

Miss Wisconsin enjoys softball, pageants and serving others

BY ERIN CROWLEY • of The Northwestern • June 21, 2010

Photo by Jeannette Merten/for The Northwestern.

Playing softball is not the most common way one would think best to prepare for the Miss Wisconsin Scholarship Pageant, but it worked for Kimberly Sawyer.

“I wanted to leave it all out on the stage just like I always said I’d left everything on the field when I played softball,” Sawyer said Sunday, a day after being crowned Miss Wisconsin 2010 at the scholarship pageant at the Alberta Kimball Auditorium in Oshkosh.

Sawyer, an Egg Harbor native, represents the Green Bay Area and is a 2009 graduate of St. Norbert College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance.

As a member of the St. Norbert College softball team and other athletic teams throughout her life, Sawyer said that sports and scholarship pageants have a lot of the same principals including leadership and teamwork.

“I’ve learned so much from sports that have carried over into what I do now and I’m looking forward to sharing that with girls and saying, ‘Hey, you can be a sporty girl and a girly girl at the same time’… I think it’s good to be well-rounded,” she said.

A dedicated volunteer for the Red Cross organization, Sawyer is also looking forward to helping others find their passion for volunteerism across the state.
“I cannot wait to just go out and encourage that and help people find their passion for service like I have with the Red Cross,” Sawyer said.

Another passion for Sawyer is music. In high school, she performed at the statewide solo-ensemble competition and dressed like a renaissance-era queen to sing in the madrigal ensemble.

“So I have a little practice wearing a crown,” she said jokingly.

This passion for music is what initially pushed her into getting involved with the Miss America organization. For her talent, Sawyer sang a classic opera song about a very sad woman.

Photo by Anthony Wahl

“I know (opera) is really technical difficult and it usually resonates with the judges really well especially if you can put a lot of emotion into it,” she said. “So I just tried to pick a song that did have a lot of emotion. For me it was a very sad song so for me that was really hard because I’m not usually a very sad person.”

While Sawyer’s background in sports and music prepared her to compete for the Miss Wisconsin title, there was one moment in the competition that threw her for a loop.

Sawyer’s younger sister, Katie, representing the South Central area of the state, was also competing this weekend. As fate would have it, the two were the last remaining contestants on stage at the end of the night.

“When it was down to the two of us once they called miss Kenosha out as the second-runner up, I said, ‘You have to be kidding me, there is no way,’” she said. “I just held her hands and said, ‘Whatever happens, you know I love you and we’re going to go from here and we’re both winners now.’”

Sitting in the audience was Kimberly and Katie’s father, John Sawyer along with their mother, Jackie.

There wasn’t any worry about how his one daughter would take the news of defeat, John Sawyer said. “We’re a pretty close family and everybody roots for each other,” he said.

Once it registered that Kimberly won, her mind immediately went blank.

“I was in total shock,” Sawyer said. “I felt like it was a dream sequence from a movie so I don’t even really remember a whole lot about what happened I’m looking forward to watching the video and reliving the whole experience.”

Over the next year, Kimberly will take all that she’s learned from her preparation and experience at the Miss Wisconsin pageant as she makes appearances across the state.

“I just want to talk to all those wonderful people (across the state) and show them that Miss Wisconsin is a real down-to-earth girl…and likes to help people and help them help others,” she said.

In January, Kimberly will go on to represent the state at the 2011 Miss America Pageant. While making the top 15 would be a dream come true for her, upholding the values of the organization is what truly matters.

“I want to uphold what the Miss America organization is really about because I truly believe in it and I want to do it for my other contestants too because I am a representative of them now and I want to make them proud so that’s more what I’m hopeful for.”