PLAINFIELD – In 1970, Dorothy Dodendorf wanted to support her church’s blood drive.
But when she arrived ready to donate, the Red Cross volunteer told Dodendorf she couldn’t because she was pregnant.
Undaunted, Dodendorf, who had been a member of the Red Cross youth club in high school, asked, “Well, what else can I do for the Red Cross?’”
And that was how Dodendorf spent the next 45 years as a dedicated volunteer for the American Red Cross. During many of those years, Dodendorf was either employed or running a business with her late husband, Geary Dodendorf.
On May 12, Dodendorf was recognized for her service with the Clara Barton Award, the highest award a volunteer can receive, according to a news release from the American Red Cross. Barton founded the American Red Cross.
Dodendorf received the award at the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley Volunteer Recognition Dinner at Harrah’s Joliet.
She is surprised at the honor.
Because of the Red Cross, Dodendorf said she’s made friends, traveled to places, and experienced situations she wouldn’t otherwise if she hadn’t volunteered for the humanitarian organization.
Until recently, Dodendorf said she never even tracked her hours until the organization asked her to do it.
So far for 2016, that number is 252 – not including deployment time. Dodendorf said she has been deployed to disaster sites so many times, she filled up all 20 lines on the card that noted them.
And she never replaced the card.
“I know I’m over 30,” Dodendorf said.
Dodendorf first worked as a blood drive coordinator and then became certified to teach first aid classes – and later CPR and AED – which she did for various scout and community groups.
And, yes, Dodendorf has since donated blood.
In 1985, Dodendorf switched to disaster services. She worked with preparedness training and with Disaster Action Team, recruiting and supporting the volunteers working directly with the clients. Red Cross has a strong emphasis on proper training for volunteers and their “willing hands and willing hearts.”
“When someone comes to you, be assured they have the knowledge to help you,” Dodendorf said.
Still, disaster work is not for everyone.
“It’s not a happy environment to be in,” Dodendorf said. “It can be hard and very stressful on the workers.”
Dodendorf’s first deployment – to Florida – was in 1992 to help with Hurricane Andrew disaster efforts. Recently, Dodendorf went to Louisiana to help with flood assistance. Her current title is workforce engagement volunteer specialist.
Through the years, Dodendorf said she’s responded to house fires – the most common disaster – wind storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding.
“I’ve only missed volcanic eruptions,” Dodendorf said. “And I don’t think that’s going to happen here.”
Remembering 1990 tornado
In an email, Dorothy Dodendorf shared her reflections on one Red Cross disaster relief response that greatly affected her – the Plainfield tornado on Aug. 28, 1990. In fact, Dodendorf, who lived in Burr Ridge at the time, said she recalls more details from that event than from any of the others.
She remembered the day as hot and sticky with thunderstorms predicted. At the time. Dodendorf was as a member of the American Red Cross’ DAT (Disaster Action Team) and the area coordinator of disaster volunteers.
When the storm hit homes in a section of Oswego, Dodendorf notified her volunteers there and learned the storm was heading toward Plainfield. Dodendorf contacted her director and started locating volunteers for disaster assessment.
The next morning, Dodendorf was assigned to a Red Cross shelter inside a Plainfield elementary school, only to find it already closed as many residents found lodging with family and friends.
Eventually Dodendorf was assigned as a caseworker when a service center opened at a local labor union building. For almost four weeks, Dodendorf interviewed and assisted clients – many of whom had lost their homes – by providing for food, clothing, lodging, medical and emotional needs, and information.
“This was really my first-time experience as a disaster volunteer of helping people who had suffered deaths from a disaster, although I would later on, in my continuing DAT work, encounter this type of tragedy again,” Dodendorf said.
In 2007, Dodendorf moved to Plainfield into a home in Wheatland Township, a short distance where the tornado touched down. At the time, Dodendorf’s subdivision was a farm that received heavy damage.
She attended the 25th anniversary memorial service and wondered where her clients are now.
“As I walked around in the crowd, [I] noticed a young woman kneel down next to the memorial plaque and gently, lovingly stroke the name of one of the disaster victims whose family I had assisted,” Dodendorf said in the email.
This article has been updated to correct the date of the Plainfield tornado. The Herald-News regrets the error.