Red Cross manager Perren sees volunteer hours cut with merger

Gerald Perren

After more than 25 years of volunteer work with the American Red Cross, Gerald Perren of Enterprise is finding himself basically out of work.

The Wallowa County Chapter, founded in 1920, is closing its official doors and being absorbed into the Deschutes County Red Cross Chapter.

"I'll be pretty much out of a regular job," says the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who will see a 20-hour per week volunteer job reduced to an estimated two hours each month.

Perren, 74, who graduated from Enterprise High School in 1947, has spent hundreds of hours toiling in the basement of the Wallowa County courthouse cordinating fundraising efforts, managing day-to-day operations, preparing reports for the national headquarters and scheduling local disaster training.

Initially recruited by long-time volunteer manager Effie Lozier for his fundraising capabilities, Perren became volunteer manager of the chapter in 1994. He came into the managerial post when Elizabeth Dole became president of the National Red Cross Chapter and ordered all 3,000 chapters in the country to re-charter. Perren was a key component of the local chapter, helping with the mountain of paperwork required in the re-chartering effort.

The work of re-chartering and a recent push to combine Red Cross chapters has reduced the number of units in the U.S. to about 900 today.

The largest disasters to hit Wallowa County during Perren's tenure with the Red Cross came when he was manager. The Troy Flood hit in February of 1996, the Imnaha Flood on New Year's Day of 1997 and the Wallowa Lake Boy Scout mudslide in July of 2002.

Of the three the largest effort was the Imnaha Flood which, in conjunction with other Oregon floods at the same time, was declared a National Disaster.

With trained volunteers in the field and Perren coordinating efforts from the courthouse, the local Red Cross was instrumental in bringing aid at a time of greet need. Hot chili, soup and coffee were prepared and shared with displaced landowners within a matter of hours. After that the Red Cross contracted with the Imnaha Store and Tavern to provide hot meals for the needy of the community. Efforts were made to provide food and medical supplies to persons cut off by the flood. The Red Cross worked with the Forest Service and the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office to provide needed supplies delivered by pack train. One man, a diabetic, was hospitalized for five days at the expense of the Red Cross. Meals were also served to emergency workers.

After the mudslide which ravaged the Boy Scout dining hall last summer, the Red Cross was on the scene with three volunteers within an hour to assess the situation. Though several scouts returned to their homes, 15 scouts and three leaders were kept overnight in a Red Cross supplied shelter at the Joseph Community Center. Meals were also provided. Perren again worked the phones to help bring aid.

The delivery of food supplies was a major Red Cross effort after the Troy Flood.

Perren's giving to his native community, after being trained as a meteorologist in the Air Force, included nine years from 1979 to 1988 when he was manager of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce. Like the Red Cross, he was reimbursed for expenses. Unlike the Red Cross, he occasionally received a small wage.

Though his hours are being cut, Gerald Perren is not retiring from Red Cross work. "I'll be free to go out on disaster response," he says.

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