Tom Lee of Winona has witnessed the aftermath of four hurricanes, four floods and two tornadoes -- in just five years.
Thankfully, none were local. The June Volunteer of the Month, working in his capacity as an American Red Cross disaster relief volunteer, traveled the country to help wherever needed.
“Every time I go out, I come back very tired and very satisfied about what the Red Cross has done," he said.
“Not all activities are fun, but you can make them satisfying by knowing you have done some good and that is the reward."
Lee, originally from Willmar in central Minnesota, came to Winona in 1973 for a one-year appointment as an accounting instructor at Winona State University. In 1978, Lee returned to Winona State as a full-time professor; he retired in 2000.
“Coming to Winona is one of the best things that has happened to me," Lee said. "It is a great little community where I have made great friends."
His volunteering experiences have not been limited to the Red Cross. Lee has also served as a board member and president of the Noon Kiwanis for 15 years, served 13 years on the YMCA membership drive, and served on the Big Brothers Big Sisters advisory council for three years.
That, and he's served on the Winona County Sheriff’s Department Dive Rescue Team for eight years, which has equipped him to respond to natural disasters.
Lee was one of the dive-team members who went to the aid of those affected by the 2007 flood. Lee remembers a home that had floated away, with people on the roof whom were trying to find safety.
Now Lee prepares himself at all times to go out and give aid nationally. When asked what it was like being on the ground in disaster areas, Lee said, “I was so involved in the disaster by the smell, the feeling, the crunch underneath my feet, but I didn’t see the scope of the situation like the people did at home watching television.”
Nearly a year ago, Lee responded to the tornadoes that rolled through El Reno, Oklahoma.
“I came away with a real appreciation with how many fine people, churches, social services and organizations that came together,” Lee said.
One area of aid Lee recalls utilizing is the Emergency Response Vehicle, which volunteers loaded up and used to provide food and shelter for recovery workers on the street, policemen, firefighters and the military, he said.
Lee also served on the east coast after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, working through emergency operating centers for the Red Cross and providing various services.
“We are glad to do it for them. We set up cots, blankets and pillows for every person,” Lee said.
“Imagine how you would feel if a family member or friend across town was missing, your house was wiped out, and businesses in your town were wiped out,” he said.
Dianne Thompson, the emergency services coordinator of the Winona-area American Red Cross, described Lee simply: "humble."
In 2013, Lee received the Betty Calendar King Award, the highest achieving award that represents his 24/7 service.
“He is the face of Red Cross, always willing to help with everything and anything,” Thompson said.