Egon Gerson: Volunteer extraordinaire
SILVERTHORNE – Amazing, inspirational, dedicated, a legend.These are all words Christine Benero, the CEO of the Mile High Chapter of the Red Cross, used to describe volunteer extraordinaire Egon Gerson.”To me, when I see the Red Cross, I see Egon standing behind it,” Benero said.At 85, Gerson, a Summit County resident since 1977, has dedicated more than half his life to helping the American Red Cross. The Red Cross’ mountain branch in Dillon was named after Gerson two years ago to commemorate his 40th year of service. It’s the only branch Gerson knows of in the entire organization that is named after an individual. Earlier this month, a direct mailing was sent to Red Cross donors sharing Gerson’s story of service, one fellow volunteers and Red Cross staff admire. Packed annual meetings and conferences are proof of that, Benero said.”People want to go just to meet Egon,” she said.
Ironically, the man who has unselfishly donated countless hours of his time to the international aid organization over more than four decades, was hesitant to help the Red Cross in the beginning. It was in the 1950s in Chicago where Gerson had emigrated from Germany with his parents in 1938. He’d recently finished serving in the Navy and was working for Western Electric. The company was having an employee donation drive for the Red Cross.”The supervisor at that time said – I didn’t want to give anything – he said, ‘You know Egon we never say no when you want to take your skiing vacation in February.’ So I gave him $1 and that was my first contribution to the Red Cross,” Gerson recalled with a laugh while rubbing his weathered hands together inside his Silverthorne home.He ended up taking a first aid course through the same Red Cross chapter to supplement his training as a ski patroller at Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin. By 1963 Gerson was a first aid instructor. Before he left Chicago for the Colorado mountains, he would become an instructor trainer, a CPR instructor and would be awarded the Red Cross’ lifesaving service award for performing mouth-to-mouth on a woman in seizure at the ski area, keeping her alive until an ambulance crew arrived.When he retired in 1977, Gerson moved to Summit County and quickly realized the local Red Cross chapter needed a boost. At the time, only a water safety volunteer and a volunteer who worked with military members’ families were involved. So Gerson took the branch over and ran it out of his home.The local fire department allowed Gerson to teach classes out of the station, and the Dillon Police Department gave him a small closet to store his mannequins and manuals for classes.
For nearly 20 years, Gerson pretty much single-handedly operated the program with almost no funding, teaching lifesaving classes to locals and showing up at emergencies regardless of the hour or the weather, Benero said.”I can say this as CEO – we wouldn’t be in Summit County if it wasn’t for Egon,” she said.In 1995, Denver’s Mile High Chapter took over the local branch, providing funding for two paid staff members, and expanding its services to support Grand and Lake counties.While Gerson no longer teaches classes for the Red Cross, he’s educated so many people over the years that he can’t even begin to guess the number.”One year alone, in 1975, I taught 730 ski patrollers to renew the certificates because the (manuals) changed,” he said.Gerson’s helping hand has stretched beyond the local Red Cross chapter in Summit County. He trained as an EMT when he arrived in Summit County and volunteered for the Summit County Ambulance Service for 12 years, as well as for the Dillon Valley Fire Department.
These days, he volunteers in guest services at City Market on Fridays, offers his time at the Community Care Clinic and remains an active volunteer with the Red Cross.And he still skis.Sitting still just isn’t in the cards for this energetic, charismatic retiree.”You can sit around and watch television all the time, forget it. I’m very active. I’m always busy, it’s always volunteering,” he said.He’s reminded often of the number of lives he’s touched in the county.”No matter where I go, people recognize me. … It must be because I’m so good looking,” he joked.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13625, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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