Red Cross volunteer serves the Army more than half a century
By Sharon Taylor Conway, Stripe Staff Writer
The Army is her life. For more than half a century, Ethel Kulhanek has served the U.S. Army in one way or another.
She entered the Army in 1942, among the first group of women to serve in the Women’s Army Auxilary Corps. Later, she became an Army wife after marrying her husband, Lt. Col. B.J. Kulhanek. But, it was her tireless service with the American Red Cross that proved Ethel Kulhanek a living Army legacy, her volunteer career spanning more than 58 years.
She began volunteering with the Red Cross at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1949. Her husband had just returned from Korea.
A friend of my husband’s needed someone with a top secret clearance for a reserve unit, said Kulhanek. And so she began volunteering.
Kulhanek volunteered, Every place we were stationed. After multiple tours in Germany and stateside, Kulhanek was volunteering at Fort Sill, Okla., when her husband passed away in 1966.
I had lost Joe and I just stayed there. [Volunteering] made me realize there’s a world out there. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I wanted to do something. It kept my sanity, said Kulhanek. I knew how important it was and I just stayed with it. And stay with it she has.
Every Tuesday, wearing her official Red Cross Gray Lady uniform, Kulhanek boards the shuttle bus from her home at Knollwood Army Retirement Community in northwest D.C., to Walter Reed to take vital signs for patients in the gynecology oncology clinic. A very simple but important function, said nurse manager Ivy Berry, Kulhanekís supervisor at the clinic since 2004.
Berry said the fact that the clinic serves solely women and women with cancer makes Kulhanek’s presence invaluable, especially for female Soldiers. Miss Ethel, as she is affectionately known, is an example of a woman who is still willing to help other women, she said.
Taking their blood pressure, she makes eye contact. That ís when she’s giving them these words of encouragement. She gets in their personal space, touching them on their arm, on their shoulder. Holding their hand, said Berry. She brings them so much inspiration. She lets them know whatever problems are there, with faith in God, you can get through it.
She has such a contagious smile, said Berry. She ís lovely; a happy spirit, giving soul, doing God’s work.
She’s our co-worker, said Berry. She leaves me a voicemail when she can’t come in.
But hardly anything can keep Kulhanek away from her volunteer work, including a recent fall (without serious injury) in the clinic on her way home. The next week, Kulhanek returned to work on a cane, only to be sent home by her doctor.
After the clinic staff threw Kulhanek’s 89th birthday party last November, Berry said Kulhanek rushed the group to finish up their ice cream and cake because the party encroached upon her work time.
She said, We’ve got to wrap this up we’ve got to go to work, recalled Berry.
Kulhanek’s enthusiasm and willingness to give is priceless, said Berry. She epitomizes the whole concept of how much you can receive from giving. I’m selfish. I’m doing what makes me feel good, said Kulhanek. When you feel needed, that ís the most important thing, she said. I owe it [volunteering] rather than it owes me.