A Wildfire Sparks a Friendship

A friendship forged in Red Cross between Bev Dull and Mary Jo Sherman across many disaster relief efforts.

Red Cross volunteers at Hot Air Ballon Festival

📸Shown Left to right:
American Red Cross volunteers Bev Dull, Gary Dull and Mary Jo Sherman.

By Roylene Roberts
American Red Cross Disaster Services Volunteer

This is the story of Beverly (Bev) Dull and Mary Jo Sherman, two American Red Cross volunteers and the amazing friendship that evolved between them. Bev and Mary Jo volunteered in their own communities, one with a Volunteer Fire Department and the other with the County CERT program, but they found common ground by volunteering with the American Red Cross.

In 2012, the Colorado wildfires were unusually devastating and included several separate fires that occurred throughout June, July, and August. The American Red Cross provided many things including shelter, clean-up supplies, casework, and recovery services. Bev deployed from Kopperl, Texas to Loveland Colorado as part of the American Red Cross Disaster Assessment team.  While there, she met Mary Jo, an Iowa American Red Cross volunteer, who was assigned to Staff Services. Bev noticed that Mary Jo had been given a private hotel room (when volunteers typically stay with another volunteer or in a staff shelter) and Mary Jo explained that she received calls all night long, so she needed a private room. But it didn’t take long for Bev to figure out that Mary Jo snored extremely loudly, so she joked with her that it was her snoring and not her phone that warranted the private room.  They had no way of knowing that this teasing would become the start of a great friendship.

Shortly after the Colorado wildfires, they both deployed to the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation in New Jersey.  Hurricane Sandy (unofficially referred to as “Superstorm Sandy”) was the deadliest, most destructive, and strongest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Bev and Mary Jo met again. This time, Bev was deployed as an emergency response vehicle driver. Mary Jo once again deployed to Staff Services and took the opportunity to tutor Bev in the management of Mission Cards. Mission Cards are issued to deployed volunteers to help them cover the costs of food and other small necessities.  Sensing the need from Mary Jo for help (as this was a time when Mission Cards had to be “reloaded the old-fashioned way”), Bev returned to Texas but redeployed to New Jersey to support Staff Services- specifically Mission Card management. During this time, their friendship grew stronger as they were able to bond over their shared experiences while deployed. There were pajama parties with other volunteers, cook outs on Friday nights, and oh yes, the infamous snoring!

Two weeks after returning home to Iowa, Mary Jo’s husband passed away.  Bev reached out to her new friend.  They chatted about the Red Cross, their lives, and the weather.  After a few weeks, Mary Jo decided that it was time to relocate to Paris, Texas and be near her daughter.  Bev and Mary Jo kept in touch. They discussed the details of doing casework for the Red Cross and even talked about a mutual love of fishing.

In addition to the Red Cross, Mary Jo volunteered with the Lamar County CERT in Paris, TX.  The County CERT was supporting the “Tour of Paris” bicycle event and Bev and her husband Gary, an Air Force retiree, drove 180 miles to support Mary Jo as event volunteers in 2016 and 2017.   

While their friendship grew, they also faced hardships. Both had fires that destroyed their homes, and, in the fall of 2017, Bev was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bev’s first phone call after letting her family know was to Mary Jo.  Mary Jo supported Bev and her husband though the long journey from diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and monitoring.  When they were not together, they chatted on the phone about the cancer, life, and the future. Bev is now cancer free.

Last year, Mary Jo received her cancer diagnosis, but the prognosis was not good.  Bev began visiting Mary Jo, spending a week or two at a time with her before returning home, and they continued their daily chats. Sometimes they stayed on the phone until late at night. “She would also fall asleep and start snoring on the phone and I would sit and listen to her for a while before I would hang up.”  Bev went to stay with Mary Jo when she moved into hospice.  Mary Jo passed away on March 2, 2020.

Bev returned home to Kopperl, but Mary Jo’s daughter kept in touch. She shared plans for the cremation and the return of Mary Jo’s ashes to Iowa so she could be buried with her husband.  Mary Jo’s passing has been hard on Bev who misses her daily chats.  “Mary Jo and I looked at things the same way,” says Bev, remembering her friend. “We used to laugh and say that the Red Cross is stuck with us, at least until we stop caring, which will be never. And we felt that way about our friendship, too.”

One day, a package arrived in the mail.  Inside the package was a small red cross containing a part of Mary Jo’s ashes.  The cross hangs on Bev’s computer screen, a reminder of their great friendship that started with the Colorado wildfires. Each day Bev touches the cross and knows that Mary Jo may be gone from this earth, but best friends are forever. They may not be with you, but you never forget them.  “I learned so much from Mary Jo, and we had so many things in common. We both lost our homes to fires. We were both helped by the Red Cross. We both felt a need to give back.”

Mary Jo assisted on over 40 Red Cross disaster response operations and was working on getting new GAPs (Red Cross qualifications for deployment) up until a few weeks before her passing. She will be remembered by all of the staff and volunteers from the Central and South Texas region of the American Red Cross, as well as countless volunteers and clients she helped and worked with across the country.

In Memory of Mary Jo Sherman April 19, 1963- March 2, 2020

Author: American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region

The American Red Cross Central & South Texas Region provides humanitarian services -- including disaster relief, services to the armed forces and CPR/first aid training -- to 83 counties in the state of Texas. Chapter offices are located in Waco, Bryan, Austin, San Antonio, Kerrville, Midland and El Paso.