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Today, Karen Z. passed away. Karen served for most of the last twenty years as Director of Health & Safety for the Cincinnati Red Cross. She personally touched hundreds of thousands of lives during her tenure, and I personally owe her a debt of gratitude I'll never be able to repay.

Karen had an incredible zest for life, tremendous energy, even when battling the cancer that ultimately defeated her, and was among the kindest and most selfless people I've ever known. I never saw her without a smile on her face, and everyone she met was instantly a friend.

I first met Karen nearly 15 years ago, when I moved to Cincinnati, stopped by the chapter, showed my Red Cross CPR/First Aid instructor card, and asked what I could do to help. From that moment on, I've been a Cincinnati Red Cross volunteer. Thanks to Karen's guidance and coaching, I grew in the ranks of volunteers, once chaired the Health & Safety committe itself, and now serve as volunteer chair of Green Facilities for the chapter.

Throughout the years, every time I've answered the Red Cross' call to serve, it has touched me in unexpected ways. I can directly trace at least three roles at my day job to volunteering at the Red Cross, including the two best roles of my career. I've also met countless dignitaries and local business leaders who would otherwise likely have never given me the time of day.

And nearly every time I stopped by the chapter, for whatever purpose, Karen was there, always with a smile on her face and a "Thank you" for the time I spent volunteering. I never did understand why she kept thanking me -- the gifts she gave me by believing in me, supporting me, and giving me a chance far outweighed what little I was able to give back to the chapter & charity.

I can trace a lot of good in my life directly to Karen. And yet, mine is only one of the lives that Karen touched. The last time I saw a service statistic, there were several tens of thousands of people a year who took training directly through her department, plus all the aquatics classes through the local park districts. Red Cross CPR is the official Standard of Care at the nationally renown Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and around once a year, we hear save stories and get to hand out a "National Certificate of Merit" -- signed by the President of the United States -- to someone who volunteered and saved a life through Red Cross Health & Safety training.

And sometimes, even that too hit close to home. The son of one of my former bosses was saved by CPR provided by a trained volunteer bystander who helped him after he nearly drowned at a pool party. You know -- that Health & Safety training...

There are very few people in this world who touch as many lives and help as many people as Karen did. And today, there's one fewer. Earth lost, and Heaven gained, one very remarkable woman today.

Here's to Karen!

-Chuck
Inside Value Home Fool
Red Cross volunteer
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