Take Up Your (Red) Cross

Posted by Paula Paine on March 18, 2014 in Jean-Meth1.jpgIn the 1950s, women were often stereotyped as attending college simply to earn their MRS. degree, so the idea of a female with degrees in physical education and counseling spending 30 years traveling and serving around the world was pretty far-fetched - unless you were Jean Meth, that is, for whom stereotypes seldom fit.

At Ottawa University in the late 1940s, Meth ’50 was already a woman of action, being involved in sports, clubs, volunteer work, and campus and summer jobs. Her senior year, however, Rev. Dr. Roger Fredrikson ’42 came on board at the University and “turned the whole college upside down,” says Meth. “I didn’t really get involved in church activities until my senior year, when Roger gave us a challenge that impelled me to not be able to say no to any request. I did weekend deputations, Bible studies, and small group activities. Eight weeks after graduation, I even led a team-teaching Bible school in Kansas.”

Taking advantage of every opportunity placed in front of her proved to be Meth’s mode of operation that eventually landed her a career she could only have dreamed of. As a competitive swimmer in high school, she was first introduced to the Red Cross as a summer swim instructor. After earning her undergraduate degree from OU and a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University with a major in physical education and a minor in counseling, she began teaching at Muskingum College in Ohio and again taught First Aid and Life Saving with the Red Cross.
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A representative began pursuing Meth to consider a career with the Red Cross and convinced her to spend four weeks in Trenton, New Jersey, during the summer of 1955, where she managed the disaster relief food and clothing warehouse. Intrigued, she began investigating career opportunities and was hired by the Red Cross in January 1956. So began a colorful 30+ year career with the Red Cross that encompassed multiple jobs on multiple continents with experiences that no MRS. degree could have afforded.

Meth’s first assignment was to the South Korea Club Mobile program, which involved doing recreational programs and providing snacks to military units, including United Nations troops, on the heels of the Korean War. “One highlight of this job was working with KATUSA, which embedded South Korean troops with our forces. We were able to help the two groups learn to work together by facilitating programs that both groups could participate in. My last assignment there was an artillery unit above the 39th parallel.”

Upon her return to the U.S., Meth served as a recreation aide at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia and at Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston. From there she moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, for three years as director of Red Cross Youth for 250 public schools and 10 colleges. When direct funding and teacher sponsorship sources dried up due to the introduction of United Way and new Union laws, Meth returned to the Red Cross’s national staff as part of the organization’s Hospital Service program in South Korea and Japan. In South Korea, she worked with students in the military high school and Korean Junior Red Cross program as a recreation facilitator. In Japan, Meth had the privilege of working with organizational staff of the 1964 Olympics to assist with the Special Olympics, which followed the traditional games. It was the first time that Asian countries had allowed their disabled to participate.

Back in the States, Meth served as a Junior Red Cross representative for four states, during which time she assisted schools damaged by the Palm Sunday tornado disaster of 1965. She was then asked to go to South Vietnam in the midst of the Vietnam War as a field director responsible for all programs, social work, and volunteers.

“At first, I had an international voluRed-Cross-Swimming.jpgnteer group that set up an evening recreation program in Saigon,” says Meth. “Then I was assigned as the first hospital field director in Thailand. The Honorary Red Cross Chairman of Korat requested that we have a teacher come to the hospital. This turned into a program that brought in 80 teachers who became Junior Red Cross sponsors, which opened up many doors of cross-cultural activity for me. We had injured Thai children brought in by the Green Berets. At one point, I took 14 patients to Chiang Mai and was able to explore the culture there. I also did a bride’s school where we showed the Thai women how to shop in the military PX and commissary, how to set tables, cook American dishes, and so on.”

After assignments in Army hospitals in the Washington, D.C. and Boston, Massachusetts, areas, Europe was next on the career map for Meth, where she served in two German hospitals as field supervisor of 20 graduate counseling students. Traversing back and forth between continents was commonplace for Meth, who next wound up at the Naval Base in Philadelphia. There she became involved in the chapel program, followed by coordinating volunteers in a four-state region, as well as Iceland and the Azores. As part of her duties, she taught stress management courses, which led to training chaplains in Japan and the Philippines regarding how to teach the curriculum. While there, Meth also trained Red Cross nurses and taught Mother and Baby Care classes to fathers-to-be onboard the Naval ships.

Meth’s final assignment was as field director in Guam. “One real treat during this last job was the Naval Air Station,” says Meth. “The commanding officer was a Christian and ran the base as a Christian. We took the opportunity to work with deaf patients and taught the medical staff sign language for medical terms.”

Not surprisingly, though Meth retired from the Red Cross in 1987, she has remained a woman of action. Over the past 26 years, she volunteered with the Red Cross in several capacities; worked with a former Naval Chaplain at a New Jersey Christian counseling organization; cared for her aging mother; became highly involved in her church; served in leadership roles with the American Baptist Women (ABW); went on mission trips to Hong Kong, China and the Dominican Republic; taught English at a Christian boarding school in Thailand; served for seven summers at the conference center in Green Lake, Wisconsin, in multiple capacities; and took an ABW tour to the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Georgia. At 86, Meth is currently very involved in Benson Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, not far from her hometown of Grand Island.

Living a life that few others could, Meth has taken it all in stride. “I enjoyed the opportunities to get to know people and help solve problems,” she humbly confides. “I got to travel and learn about other cultures. In each move, I turned over the situation to God. He closed and opened doors as He saw fit.”