Red Cross honors real heroes

Indiana Jones and Superman are fictional heroes, but even if they were real chances are they wouldn’t have what it takes to become an American Red Cross hero.

Neither was known for diligently and quietly tending to the needs of their community, or spending endless hours in training to help someone in that one moment of crisis. No, you won’t see scene-stealers like Indiana Jones and Superman next Tuesday when the Island County Chapter of the American Red Cross hosts its annual Real Heroes Breakfast. This event recognizes local individuals who have demonstrated heroic and humanitarian service in our community, but generally without much recognition.

These heroes range in age from 13 to post-retirement, but they all share a common trait: the desire to help others without seeking recognition for themselves. In fact, most are a bit embarrassed to be publicly feted at a heroes’ breakfast.


The youngest hero this year is 13-year-old Jacki Matteson, who will receive the Youth Good Samaritan Award sponsored by Pacific Northwest Bank. She single-handedly raised $1,300 so the Oak Harbor Police Department could purchase a bullet-proof vest for its dog, Bak.

Matteson was only 12 when she saw a TV show depicting a California girl who had done the same thing for a police dog in her community. “I thought if she could do it I could do it,” she said recently as she met with Bak and his handler, Officer Mike Bailey.

Matteson set a goal of raising $1,300 which she achieved, and now Bak has a custom-made, 6-pound, K-9 Storm vest that Bailey puts on the dog in dangerous situations. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we don’t know if they’re armed,” Bailey said of suspects he and Bak pursue. “It’s a gamble for both of us.” But now their odds are better since both handler and dog can wear vests designed to stop a bullet or knife.

Jacki is the daughter of John and Lori Matteson, who are pleased to the parents of a Red Cross hero. “She’s always been really into animals,” Lori said of her daughter. The money was raised by placing donation jars throughout the community and opening an account at Whidbey Island Bank for the “Vest Our Canine” fund.


Digger O’Dell is the recipient of the Humanitarian Award sponsored by Whidbey Island Bank. O’Dell is known in the community for his many volunteer efforts, but he’s being specifically honored for his management of the Military Affiliate Radio Station (MARS) at NAS Whidbey Island. He built a network of community volunteers to help the community communicate with their loved ones in the military around the world. He has promoted the service for 15 years, and each month thousands of communications between service members and family members are facilitated. There have been many dramatic moments as well, with fathers-to-be placed at the bedsides of their wives during delivery, doctors addressing patients in need of at-sea medical procedures, and even children talking to orbiting astronauts.


Everyone knows that child care seats are important for safety, but many people have problems installing the seats properly. Rather than just talk about it, State Trooper Julie Swanson and Linda Wernke started a volunteer program to do something about it. For their efforts, they will receive the Adult Good Samaritan Award sponsored by AT&T Broadband. Swanson and Wernke work with families to not only install free car seats provided by the Ford Motor Co., but also to make sure that other children in the family are buckled up safely. Their quiet effort has no doubt saved many young Whidbey Island residents from serious injury or worse.


A Navy swimmer owes his life to two NAS Whidbey water safety instructors, Chief Petty Officer Randy Contreras and Petty Officer Third Class Jayson Danziger, who will receive the Military Award sponsored by Northrop Grumman. Last March 13 a swimmer suffered a “shallow water blackout” and the unconscious body was pulled from the pool and lifesaving techniques administered. Without the quick action by the well-trained safety instructors the outcome could have been tragic. With their help, the victim was able to walk out of the hospital the next day.


Island County Sheriff’s Deputy Rob Davison, like most police officers, is a keen observer of life, able to pick out unusual things that others might not notice. Such was the case on July 24 when Davison noticed two children sitting close to the edge of Timberline Road in Clinton. Had he driven by, a one-year-old baby girl might have died. Something about their behavior made him stop to investigate. He picked up the baby and found she had a glob of gunk stuck behind her tongue and couldn’t breathe. He removed what turned out to be a wad of skin cream mixed with grass and gravel and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, saving the girl’s life. He will receive the Law Enforcement Award sponsored by Upchurch Scientific.

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