Volunteer Profile: Wonderful Larry Wiedenhoft

When gale force winds struck the coast of Oregon in
2007, they severely disrupted life in the communities of Wheeler, Nehalem and
Manzanita. With Manzanita cut off from the rest of the state for nearly a week,
Larry Wiedenhoft and his neighbors were so put out by the disruption that they
decided to never allow that kind of vulnerability again. They bought ham
radios, got themselves trained and licensed to use them and committed to joining
the American Red Cross. Their work paid off so handsomely that they were
recently recognized as The Best Prepared Small Town in Oregon. Larry attended
training to become a licensed EMT and began supporting the local fire
department. Later he began volunteering with the Disaster Health Services group
at the Northwest Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross. In this role, Larry
was called out on six national disasters last year, but his most memorable role
was during the Oklahoma tornadoes in 2013. This major
occurred across a large portion of the Central
United States and into the Great Lakes region. He arrived one week after the
tornado and remained there for four weeks.

several weeks of stress and endless days of exhausting work, residents were
showing physical and emotional effects of the storm,” says Larry. “This is not
uncommon. People often do not realize how stressed or tired they are and don’t
dedicate time to resting and recharging. Many are made further vulnerable
because they have not been taking their regular medications or securing medical
treatment for minor medical problems. They can cope for several weeks but then
their bodies just give out.” Larry goes on to say, “Red Cross volunteers can
fall prey to the same conditions. They are working long and unusual shifts, taking
on the burden of helping others deal with emotional trauma and getting limited
rest. The Health Services group can soon find themselves struggling to aid both
the victims of the storm as well as many of their fellow volunteers. This can put
a real strain on the mission of the group.”

Larry (far right) with team assisting in
Oklahoma tornado response in 2013

One young man stands out for Larry. A 19-year-old FEMA
Corps worker assigned to the Red Cross was away from home for the first time and
struggling with a diabetic condition. When he failed to report one day, Larry sought
him out only to discover the young man was suffering from seriously high blood
sugar. They got him to a nearby ICU and with treatment his blood sugar returned
to normal. When the volunteer started referring to Larry as ‘dad,’ Larry
realized the extent of the attachment.

Responding to Colorado floods in 2013
Larry says he has learned several lessons during his
relief experiences. “Volunteers need to be attentive to caring for themselves
first. When health services needs to spend time and energy attending to other
volunteers, they are limited as to how much support they can provide the real
disaster victims.” Helping so many people struggle through the loss of
property, but even more critical, the loss of loved ones, has reminded Larry
about what is really important in his own life.

Red Cross volunteer
profiles are written by communications volunteer Patrick Wilson and provide a
behind-the-scenes look at some of the incredible people who help to
deliver our mission.