Published Date Written by Jim Lewis
She’s come to the rescue in two major floods and several house fires. She’s provided needy families with help in paying for groceries, in paying electric bills, in paying their rent.
Nancy Schenck has helped a lot of people in her 19 years as executive director of the Middletown chapter of the American Red Cross. From providing shelter to those who lost their homes in emergencies to providing vouchers at local grocery stores to those struggling to make ends meet, she has touched the lives of many area residents.
She wouldn’t have guessed that she would end up in such a position, after a career in the banking industry. When she began her job as executive director in 1995, she had worked as the secretary to the board of directors of a savings and loan. Now she had to set up cots at emergency shelters, arrange blood drives, help people any way she could. “I’ve never done anything like this,’’ she told local volunteers who organized the Middletown chapter.
On Friday, Feb. 21, she retired from her job, having helped countless people in times of distress. She’s learned how to set up cots. She’s quickly found shelter, heating oil and other aid for those in need through her “little resources,’’ as Royalton Mayor Judy Oxenford, a friend and former Red Cross board member, calls them.
Volunteers and co-workers at the Harrisburg main office of American Red Cross Serving Central Pennsylvania held a potluck luncheon for her last Thursday, Feb. 20. Volunteers in the Middletown area will host a farewell to Schenck from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 2 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 64 Ann St., with an honorary presentation planned for 2:30 p.m. and coffee and cake served throughout.
Schenck will move to Pittsburgh to be close to family sometime in March. While being close to family will be nice, she will miss her work in Middletown.
“It’s one of those bittersweet moments,’’ she said. “I hate to leave. I especially enjoyed what I have done with volunteers. I’ve heard about their families. I’ve heard about their illnesses. I’ve heard about what they’ve done. They became family.’’
To Oxenford, Middletown is losing a devoted and compassionate friend, someone whose strong religious faith shines through in her dealings with those in need.
“They can’t make a better lady,’’ said Oxenford. “They did right when they put her in that position. She’s a very devout, religious person, though she’s not a Bible-thumper. I told her, ‘You don’t have to praise the Lord, honey, because you’re on the way up.’ ‘’
Schenck credits local volunteers and the Red Cross staff with believing in her. She was out of work when local attorney James Pannebaker called her one day and offered her the Red Cross job.
About a year later, she was scurrying to help victims of the flood of 1996, caused when massive ice on the Susquehanna River and snow from several heavy snowstorms melted too quickly.
Volunteers and local government officials helped her do her job, she said.
“Everyone has treated me with dignity and respect,’’ said Schenck. “There were always people willing to step up and help. I’ve had very kind people to work with.’’
Schenck had many clients who came to her office in borough hall for help to buy groceries, pay electric bills or meet their rent on time. The Middletown chapter had a unique fund that other chapters didn’t have – a benefactor had left the chapter money in his will from the interest made annually on investments in the Hershey Trust, and that money paid for staples for those in need. The annual check that the chapter received was made out to the chapter “for the poor of Middletown.’’
And Schenck preferred to help rather than turn someone away, Oxenford said. “Some would come in with their nails done, or gold around their neck, or smoking cigarettes, and I’d say, ‘Nancy, they don’t need it,’ ‘’ recalled Oxenford. “She’d say, ‘Well, they might need the money.’ When they put her in that position, they did right. They couldn’t make a better lady.’’
Schenck often worked in the Red Cross office alone, helping those who came in. The Red Cross closed the office in 2011, just before Tropical Storm Lee brought another major flood in September 2011. Schenck returned to Middletown to help.
Call her late at night and she still could quickly find the resources needed, Oxenford said.
To Schenck, her work was as good as the volunteers and officials who helped her find ways to help.
“Throughout all the things I’ve seen, there’s always been someone to step in and help me,’’ she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without people like them.’’
Leaving the area, and her group of dedicated volunteers and friends, will be difficult, Schenck admitted. “It’s one of those bittersweet moments,’’ she said. “I hate to leave.’’
And Middletown will lose a compassionate friend, Oxenford said.
“Middletown’s going to miss Nancy,’’ she said, “because she has done a lot for Middletown.’’