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Red Cross “Pin Lady” Shares a Time-Honored Tradition

shirley powers poses with Red Cross pins on her lapel
A Red Cross volunteer recently gave me a lovely Texas-shaped pin from his local chapter while we were deployed together on a disaster response. “Thank you!” I said, casually popping it in my pocket. I didn’t truly appreciate the gesture, though, until I met Shirley Powers. Or, as she’s more affectionately known, the Pin Lady.

Shirley, a volunteer historian at the American Red Cross, earned this nickname when her local chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, received a letter addressed to “Pin Lady.” A star at national Red Cross conventions where she oversaw the Pin Mania booth, Shirley made a name for herself managing the organization’s pin collection. “My booth was always in the back, because we knew people would seek out the pins. And we had fun,” she said, selling pins as fundraisers for local chapters.

So Why Pins?

The American Red Cross pin culture dates as far back as the early 1900s. The organization bestowed pins on financial donors as a token of appreciation, nurses for their service—even giving pins for people who completed Red Cross water safety classes. The tradition continues today, with people earning pins for years of service, important projects or other noteworthy achievements.

What began as a simple assignment in 1983—to write an article about pins while she was serving on the Red Cross National Committee—developed into a decades-long passion for Shirley. “I have made more friends at the Red Cross around the country,” she says, reflecting on the organization’s pride and enthusiasm in collecting and trading pins. “People have come up to me, snuck me a rare pin and said, ‘You didn’t get it from me.’ They knew I hadn’t earned it personally but wanted to make sure it became part of the official Red Cross collection.”

Home Is Where the [Red Cross] Heart Is

Samples of Red Cross pins hard rock cafe guitarToday her southwestern-style home resembles a museum in some corners, showcasing a trove of Red Cross memorabilia: roughly 6,300 pins, medals and badges; a linen closet with more than 300 outfits, including Gray Lady and canteen services uniforms from World War II; and three curio cabinets “filled with stuff.” In her introduction to the Red Cross Guide to Collector’s Pins she included a special acknowledgement to her husband, “for his patience, his suggestions, and his tolerance of a house ‘full of Red Cross!’”

Even with this extraordinary collection, which she also features on her website, she’s still missing a few. If anyone out there has a 2015 Red Cross “flying V” guitar pin issued by Hard Rock from Houston, Seattle, Louisville or Honolulu, Shirley would love to speak with you!