You can come home again

After serving 22 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, David Conley of Carey started a new career Oct. 1 as director of the Red Cross for Fostoria and Seneca County. He is a graduate of Carey High School under then-principal Don Coletta, current superintendent for Tiffin City Schools.

“I left Carey in 1989 and joined the Coast Guard for what I thought would be a four-year hitch to earn some college money. It turned into a 22-year career It went very fast when I look back over it,” Conley said.

Although he misses the mild weather at his most recent assignment in Miami, Conley said he is pleased to be back in Ohio. His wife, Karen, also a Carey native, and their parents still reside in the area. His daughter Allison is a freshman at Carey High School. The small-town amenities brought the family back where they started.

No doubt Conley also will miss living near the water. As a teen, he belonged to a small sailing club and spent many weekends on Lake Erie near Marblehead. On one occasion, the club toured the Coast Guard station. It seemed interesting to Conley, so he spoke to a recruiter and signed up. The Coast Guard trained him in technical communications.

“I worked in radio rooms, communication centers, and in Miami, was in charge of communications as part of their operations center. It opened up a lot of opportunities. I got to see a lot of unique things,” Conley said. “I found it very interesting to be on that planning side and seeing how all the pieces come together in the bigger picture.”

Having been in Miami for Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Conley also worked on logistics for Hurricane Katrina and was involved in numerous other less-severe storms and water rescues. Not all of his assignments were for


“When the Super Bowl was in Detroit (2006) I was the communications person for the Super Bowl for the government. That was a neat job, to interact with professionals from the NFL,” Conley said.

He considers his new position to be “a natural extension” of his first career. This time, he is seeing more of what the Red Cross does for people after a crisis. Ohio has floods and tornadoes, but they happen infrequently. Locally the most common calls for Red Cross assistance are house fires.

“They don’t take a holiday. They don’t have a season. When they do happen, it’s very traumatic for the people. Even a minor fire can be very traumatic for a family,” Conley said. “My introduction was the apartment fire at Willow Creek. That was my first call after completing my training and that affected 11 apartments. That was a very steep learning curve.”

Most of the displaced families had people in the area to house them temporarily, and the apartment management worked with the rest to accommodate everyone. Red Cross Disaster Assistance Team volunteers from Findlay and other agencies in Seneca County worked to meet everyone’s needs.

One of Conley’s goals is to add members to the local disaster assistance team. These volunteers would be trained to respond to local disasters and meet with families affected by a fire or other disaster. DAT volunteers determine what people need to get back on their feet and help them obtain those items and services.

Conley said DAT training is concentrated into a session called “disaster college.” A new volunteer is paired with an experienced member for emergency calls to see what needs to be done and put skills to action. He also needs volunteers who prefer a less stressful environment.

“I’m actively looking for volunteers to help at the office here in Tiffin a couple days a week answering phones, collecting the mail,” he said.

Conley spends Thursdays in Fostoria, where the Red Cross shares office space with Pantry Plus. He would like to move the Red Cross to another location to avoid confusion for food bank clients. Another change Conley expects is the end of Red Cross bingo at the Tiffin Mall. He said the National Red Cross wants to move away from gaming as a source of income. The games are to continue, but Pantry Plus probably will take charge of bingo later this year. In the meantime, former Red Cross director John Sherer is to continue as volunteer bingo director.

“That will be a significant loss of income for us, fundraiser-wise,” Conley said.

The Everyday Heroes event is to continue during March, which is Red Cross Month. Seneca County Auditor Julie Adkins is the volunteer chairwoman for 2013. Conley said the lunch has been beneficial in raising awareness about the Red Cross, but it has not been a significant fundraiser. He is looking for ways to obtain contributions without constantly making appeals to the community, which has been “giving from the heart.”

“People may not be giving us million-dollar donations but they’re giving what they can. It’s inspiring,” Conley said. “Those small amounts add up and they really do have a large impact in the long run.”

In a press release, Todd James, executive director for the Red Cross of Hancock, Seneca and Wyandot counties, said he is excited to have Conley working with Fostoria and Seneca County offices.

“His skills and experience are perfectly suited to guide our volunteers and staff in delivering Red Cross services and programs in the communities,” James said of Conley.

Conley said he is working to complete a few remaining online courses for a degree in organizational management from Ashford University, based in Iowa. The business courses should give him additional knowledge to perform his new responsibilities serving the local community.

“The Red Cross is the premier disaster relief organization in the world, and I know from first-hand experience their work in supporting the military and military families,” Conley said. “I am very honored

to be part of this great organization.”