Story by Peter Macias, Director of Communications for Service to the Armed Forces
Birthday celebrations are special. Each year these celebrations help us recognize our impact and special place in the world. I recently had the privilege of celebrating Clara Schannep Jensen’s 105th birthday with her and her family at the Chesapeake Retirement Community in Newport News, VA. Over the course of her life, Clara traveled and experienced the world in ways that few others have.
Some of her most rewarding experiences took place during her time as an American Red Cross Donut Dollie in WWII. While working with the Red Cross, Clara had a front row seat for significant world events such as the celebration of Norway’s liberation from Nazi Germany. She physically sat in the gallery during the Nuremberg Trials. Her Red Cross duties also took her to London, Paris, Rome and other European cities.
Clara was born on December 6, 1912, in Versailles, MO. She spent her formative years in Pilot Rock, OR, where she graduated from high school. After graduating, Clara trained in professional dance at the Perry Mansfield School for Performing Arts in Steamboat Springs, CO, and later opened her own dance studio. Little did she know that the training she received would eventually prepare her to answer her country’s call to serve with the Red Cross as a Donut Dollie.
In 1944, Clara signed up to work for the American Red Cross and was ready to go anywhere they wanted to send her. Her first destination was Washington, DC, and in a letter to her family she wrote –
“…I’m working at the Printcraft bldg. here at Headquarters. …[I] have quite a responsible job and am quite thrilled that they felt I could handle it. Of course, it is just something to keep me busy until they send me out.”
In 1945, Clara traveled to Europe and served in England. While in England Clara wrote –
“… The day before yesterday we spent the whole day making doughnuts. They were pretty good, too. We were in a Clubmobile which was parked in a garage. … … We’re living at a Red Cross Club – steam heat etc., very nice.”
A month later, Clara sent a note home saying –
… We have so much help on Saturday mornings at the Clubmobile that we can hardly get our work done. All the little English kids from 9 to 14 want to help. Sometimes there have been as many as 10 or 15 of them in the Clubmobile at one time. … We never walk down the street without some little kid yelling “Hello Clara!”
In the summer of 1946, Clara received heart-breaking news regarding her brother, Colonel Dwight Schannep. In July 1946, he co-piloted an airplane traveling from the Philippines to Japan. The plane made initial radio contact with Okinawa, but never reached its destination and was never heard from again.
Months later, Clara’s father passed away prompting her to move home and resign from her position with the Red Cross. Thus, ending a career filled with commendations and awards for her service to the members of the U.S. Military.
After the war, Clara married Alfred A. Jensen, a soldier she met while in Europe. Together they raised a family and continued to travel the world until they settled down in Newport News, VA.
During Clara’s 105th birthday celebration, Koby Langley, senior vice president for Service to the Armed Forces, presented her with the Red Cross Legacy Continues Award and said, “These women were not just fearless in their service, they were the trendsetters of their day. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”
Happy Birthday Clara Schannep Jensen, and thank you for your service!