Archive for Sunday, September 8, 1996


September 8, 1996


A public reception for the longtime manager for the local chapter of the Red Cross will be held today.

Tornadoes, floods and fires.

They've all hit the Lawrence area at one time or another.

And for 31 years, Jo Byers was there to help pick up the pieces.

Byers, 70, retired July 1 after serving more than three decades as chapter manager of the local American Red Cross.

A public reception for her will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today at Fifi's Banquet Hall, 1350 N. Third.

"It's really a way to see the volunteers I've worked with throughout the years," she said. "It's not to say goodbye, but it's certainly so I can thank them."

Byers likely will get some thanks of her own for overseeing the Lawrence Red Cross chapter, which has helped thousands of Douglas County residents find food, shelter, clothing and blood, and thousands more to learn to swim and save lives through education programs and classes.

Byers said the most satisfying aspect of being chapter manager was working with volunteers.

"You make some awfully good friends along the way," she said. "The people that are there are there to help somebody."

Many changes have occurred since Byers first began working for the chapter in 1965.

Back then, she was one of only two staff members and about 400 volunteers. The local chapter's annual budget was about $35,000, about 90 percent of which was allocated by the United Way of Douglas County.

Today, the office has three full-time staff members and about 200 regular volunteers.

The budget has grown to about $130,000 a year. But only about 40 percent of it comes from the United Way.

Much of the rest has to be solicited, which was one of Byers' least favorite activities.

"It's always frustrating to try to raise money," she said. "Anybody who's worked for an agency is frustrated by that. Sometimes it seems as if that's all you're doing."

Byers said one of her busiest times during her tenure as chapter manager was the late 1960s and early 1970s, when turmoil and unrest characterized Lawrence.

The Kansas Union and a well-known department store were firebombed. National Guard troops patrolled the street. Marshal law was in effect.

"It was a sad time for Lawrence but it was a busy time for the Red Cross," she said.

About a decade later, the Red Cross helped victims of a tornado that struck the city in 1981. One person was killed and several others were left homeless.

The chapter also helped many victims of the Midwest Flood of 1993 and additional flooding this year.

But Byers said Lawrence has been relatively lucky. There have been no disasters that have devastated the city, such as tornadoes that ripped through Topeka in 1966 and through Andover in 1991.

"I think we've been real lucky," she said. "We haven't had the really devastating things like Topeka or Andover."

Byers said she plans to stay in Lawrence and volunteer for various agencies.

Gary Sampson has been named interim chapter manager until a permanent manager is named.

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