By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
Your Subtitle text

Red Cross honors volunteer at recognition dinner

Photo by Harper Smith Special to The Star: Irma Kackert wears a garment from Thailand, one of the many countries she has visited in her travels around the world. She presents her "Travel With Irma" series at the Goebel Senior Center in Thousand Oaks.

Woman pools her resources for 65 years

Ventura County Star/July 21 2008

Irma Kackert was a young mother of two living in Aurora, Ill., when the polio epidemic prompted the need for volunteers to help rehabilitate the afflicted through swimming and other activities in the water.

"People were paralyzed and couldn't walk," recalled Kackert, now a Thousand Oaks resident.

"The Red Cross had a session going on in a pool, and they were asking for volunteers to help exercise these people, because it had to be one on one."

She jumped right in.

More than six decades later, Kackert, now 92 and the great-grandmother of 20, has been honored for her long volunteer service — which began with the American Red Cross back then, in 1943, and has continued with her work in Ventura County since 1972.

The Red Cross of Ventura County paid tribute to Kackert at its annual recognition dinner at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. Kackert received a rare 65-year service pin for her decades of service and contributions.

"Irma has been a valued member of our volunteer team for many years, and we appreciate all of her work on behalf of the American Red Cross," said Pat Muntz, director of volunteer and youth services. "She has touched so many individuals throughout her life, and we are delighted to recognize her for all of her efforts."

Since the polio epidemic broke out in the United States, Kackert has happily taught youths and adults how to swim — a role that has helped countless individuals afflicted with polio and other handicaps take to the water.

"Working with the handicapped and then seeing progress in the water where that disability disappears to me, that was great satisfaction," Kackert said. "I love helping people."

She taught large swim classes in Illinois — once overseeing 400 children at a Red Cross-affiliated program in Aurora — but she doesn't teach as many these days as she struggles with her own physical challenges.

"I can still teach private lessons in my pool, but I have a handicap," Kackert said.

"I have to walk with a walker," she said, "but I can be in the pool."

In addition to swim lessons, Kackert presents free monthly talks on her many travels around the globe.

The series is called "Travel With Irma" at the Goebel Senior Center in Thousand Oaks.

"I love sharing my adventures and sharing what I've learned," said Kackert, who has been around the world twice since she retired at 65, including visiting Austria, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Thailand, among others.

Among her swim lesson experiences, one of her fondest memories was the time that she taught a blind man.

"At the end of our lessons, the gentleman was able to jump off the diving board and had confidence in his abilities," said Kackert, who also taught a young boy with spina bifida and another child with brain damage how to be at ease in the water. "There's no greater joy than to experience that type of accomplishment."

Kackert became involved with the American Red Cross of Ventura County in 1972, after moving to California to be closer to her family.

During that time, she also held a job as a medical transcriber at Los Robles Hospital, which led to an opportunity for her to work temporarily at a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

While there, she provided swimming instruction to hospital employees and also received her international swimming certifications.

"Swimming is one thing that everybody should learn for their own safety," Kackert said.

"But working with the handicapped and getting them to be able to walk in the water when they cannot walk outside is the most satisfying achievement."

Website Builder