By Katie Collins News Eagle Reporter
WAYNE/PIKE - For over 50 years, Eleanor Ahearn has volunteered her time to help others through services offered by the American Red Cross.
At the age of 93, Ahearn gets up every morning, as the birds start singing their morning tunes, ready to do whatever she has planned for the day. Her American Red Cross journey officially started in the 1960’s, but her initial inspiration came from her aunt Hannah Fulde, who she saw speak on a platform that Eleanor Roosevelt once spoke on in Washington, DC in 1937. After that year, seeing the respect her aunt had from others, Ahearn realized she wanted to have such a positive effect on others too.
But first, before the hours of addressing natural disasters and the misfortunes of others, Ahearn recalls walking across campus one Sunday morning in 1941 and someone shouting that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Or when boys broke locks on the doors of girls’ dorm rooms in college, because they would have panty raids and Ahearn was forced to lock her door by putting a chair under the door knob. In school, Ahearn took many courses, sometimes being in the classroom from early in the morning to late at night, but she didn’t mind, she says, because she loved school. By learning so much, Ahearn says the education gave her a "wide scope," to look for a job.
Ahearn had a "marvelous career," in the fashion world, she says, in the ever bustling city of Chicago where she would travel to Paris and have lunch with the likes of fashion icons Christian Dior. Firstly, Ahearn started at Marshall Field as a comparative shopper, doing surveys on buyers. She eventually left that job to become an executive director, beating out male employees in the 1950’s. In her position, she represented 72 manufacturers. The men, she says, "underestimated me" and she adds, "of course I didn’t earn what they did back in those days." Competing against men, Ahearn says, it was difficult because women had to have good morals, respect for themselves and be courageous because of the many temptations.
After the glam and fun of the fashion industry, when she started volunteering with the American Red Cross, Ahearn went on to initiate several programs to help others that included educational programs to help the visually impaired or programs to teach people about the importance of good hygiene and first aid. Traveling between cities, there were times when she was in New York City trying to raise funds for the organization or in Washington D.C. to head blood donation programs. Traveling constantly with the organization, at home, her late husband Gerard wasn’t happy and so she decided she really had to make some changes. So, in 1972 the couple built a home in Hemlock Farms, where Ahearn still resides today. Although she was in the region, Ahearn says the Red Cross still wanted her to work, but because of the distance she wasn’t willing to travel the miles to Philadelphia and so she first started working in the Honesdale office.
Because of the fun she had in the fashion industry, Ahearn says she started volunteering not just because of her aunt, but also because she felt she had to do something that was worthy and helped others.
Every week Ahearn drives to the American Red Cross office in the Hawley Silk Mill, talking with the staff and volunteers to see what is going on and what more can be done. Through the years, the biggest change in society that has affected the Red Cross, she says, is that there are more charitable organizations and so the Red Cross has more of an immediate focus on handling disasters and blood drives.
Ahearn’s secret to such longevity is staying very active. In her two story home, she does all of the cleaning and up until last year, she did the gardening too. She says people shouldn’t just exercise their bodies, but they must also do, "mental gymnastics too."
Executive Director of the Wayne/Pike Chapters, Jim Rienhardt calls Ahearn the "energizer bunny," because she is constantly going. Without a doubt, Rienhardt says Ahearn is "the number one leader in pushing the envelope." He explains that Ahearn raises the bar for the staff so they can deliver their services at a much more affective level. Ahearn, he says, is always looking for ways to improve what already is. He calls her everyone’s "inspiration and who we look up to." He adds, "we’re really fortunate to have a leader and a volunteer of such high quality to inspire us."
The Office and Volunteer Manager for the American Red Cross Wayne/Pike Chapter, Linda Barney says Ahearn was one of the first board members she met when she started last year. Ahearn, she says, was very welcoming as she told Barney why the Red Cross is such a magnificent organization and during Hurricane Sandy, Barney says Ahearn checked in regularly to make sure she was alright. Always enthusiastic, Barney says Ahearn is constantly challenging her and keeping her on her toes. With 12 people on the board of directors, Barney says it is Ahearn’s enthusiasm that sets her apart and her love for the Red Cross, humanity and for helping people.
Of her time with the Red Cross, the biggest thing Ahearn has taken away from her involvement, she says is a good feeling, but the biggest gift, she adds, "is the giving and the return from it."