Dedicated to those Americans who give from the heart

May 21, 2020

By Howard E. Cummins


There are the givers and then there are the takers in life. There are those who differ in the gift of foresight and thrift, and those who practice that constructive gift and have adapted their lives to assist others. I am talking about people who think beyond mere physical factors and include in their existence social, cultural and psychological factors, all of which are combined into a rich mixture of wishing to make life better for everyone and to promote the growth of a civilized society. A few who could be named for making a lasting difference were Christ, Lincoln, Jefferson, Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela.

Indeed, there were many others. But one of the heroines was a woman who was a great teacher (she founded a free school at Bordertown, N.J.), and an outstanding humanitarian and philanthropist. In l884, this tiny little woman was appointed as the United States representative to the Red Cross Conference in Geneva, after being made president of the American Red Cross Society in l881. Her name Johnstown is located in the southwestern corner of Cambria County, Pennsylvania. Seventy-five miles to the west was a thriving steel center with blast furnaces lighting up the night sky like the coke ovens that once burned brightly in our own coal mining region of Southwest Virginia.

Two rivers met at Johnstown, with Stony Creek flowing from the south, and the Little Conemaugh dropping down from the high mountains from the east. It was rugged country, but pristine, pastoral, and breathtakingly beautiful. Very much like our own mountain ridges, and the flowing valleys below. And it was a city that on May 31, 1889 was devastated by floodwaters that literally washed it away. At least 2,200 people were killed; 967 were missing.

It was here where Clara Barton came to the aid of her fellow human persons, and it was here where Clara Barton is most remembered as an “Angel of Mercy.”

She was a woman before her time. She believed in the ideals of wisdom, truth, reason, harmony, beauty, and the philosophy that none should be discarded, left behind, neglected, or ignored. She advocated the freedom of thought and religious toleration. She felt that it was the responsibility of others to help provide the conditions for a better life for the unfortunate.

Clara Barton was not quite the robust character found in the person of Molly Brown, the woman who commanded the occupants in her Titanic lifeboat to “shut up and start rowing.” Barton had a different way to give commands, and one was that no bumbling male official could tell her how to run her business.

The challenge we face today with COVID-19 isn’t confined to our small mountainous region but affects the entire world. Throughout our United States there are a multitude of individuals who exemplify the courage and dedication exemplified by Ms. Barton. They are the doctors, nurses and aides who staff our hospitals and care for those infected by this terrifying virus. They are the caregivers in our nursing homes and adult care facilities who are responsible for our most vulnerable population. And among this number are the family caregivers who have sacrificed so much to care for a family member in the home or have shopped for an elderly person who needs to remain isolated from infection.
They are also the multitude of volunteers preparing and delivering meals. These are individuals who certainly could have chosen to sit at home to weather this current “storm”.

It is to all of these individuals, and to so many more that I haven’t thought of or mentioned, that I dedicate this article. These are the people who walk in the footsteps of some larger than life heroes from history.
Thank you.