Gray Ladies celebrate 60th anniversary

Story and photo by Amy Chaffins, a journalist with the Echo Press newspaper.

Gray Ladies members include (back row, left to right) Rhonda Steinberg, Sue Jelen, Marlene Strehlow, Marlien Lohrman, Luella Peterson, Judy Schjei, Judy Steidl, Janet McHugh and Pat Pederson; (front row) Candy Bohjanen-Hammitt, Sylvia Klimek, Irene Wheeler, Hazel Holt, Myrtle McKay and Irene Bundy. Not pictured are Pat Katzmsarek, Linda Kuhlman, Kathleen Linn, Julie Roering, Fran Schultz, Ruth Steidl and Renee Stomberg. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

The American Red Cross Gray Ladies of Alexandria, Minn., celebrated its 60th anniversary on October 30, 2014. The group primarily helps out during Red Cross bloodmobile events.

A special meeting brought the women together at the Traveler’s Inn in Alexandria to celebrate and share stories. There are currently 22 active local members.

In 2013, the Alexandria Gray Ladies volunteered about 1,951 hours at more than 50 bloodmobile events in Douglas County, according to member Candy Bohjanen-Hammitt.

Since its start in 1954, 170 Gray Ladies have served as members.

About the Gray Ladies

The Gray Ladies, formerly known as Hostess and Hospital Service and Recreation Corps, was founded in 1918 at Walter Reed Army Hospital and became a unique and enduring symbol of the Red Cross service in military and later civilian hospitals.

Their gray uniforms worn by the female volunteers at the hospitals prompted wounded soldiers in their care to affectionately call them Gray Ladies.

In 1947, the name was officially changed to the Gray Lady service.

The Gray Ladies do not provide medical care, rather recreational services to patients and assistance where needed at military and civilian hospitals, blood centers and disaster response.

Early on in the Alexandria chapter, the Gray Ladies would visit nursing home patients, write letters and sometimes transport patients to appointments.

Nationwide, during World War II, the service reached its peak with almost 50,000 women serving as Gray Ladies in military and other hospitals across the U.S.

The Gray Ladies continued serving in hospitals until the mid-1960s when the Red Cross shifted to a unified concept of volunteers.

This story is published on our blog with permission. It was originally published in the Echo Press on November 5, 2014.

If you’re interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross, click here.

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