Tokens for Good


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John Henry Felix tours us through almost eight decades of Red Cross history and shows us one very unique collection of pins.

If you’ve had a 79-year history with an organization, it would be wise to keep your keepsakes small. John Henry Felix has done just that with his collection of red cross pins. He explains, “each chapter designs a pin to show off the unique pride each chapter has.” He points to a smallish pin, with a Hawai’i state flag with a thick red cross superimposed.” I had the honor of designing this one. This is my favorite.” He is longest-serving Board Member and Chair Emeritus of the Hawai’i Chapter of the Red Cross.

John Henry Felix’s collection spans the decades, and the pins range from common to exceedingly old. Some are colorful and intricate. Some are plain, tarnished buttons with character. One is a little worn, its enamel is stained and it sticks out. “That one is about 75 years old,” he chimes in. As in the first one he received? He nods. “I started at age 8, collecting relief supplies to go to China. Toothbrushes, soap and basic essentials.”

That was 1938, and he has stayed active with the Red Cross ever since. That youngster kept on earning accolades in the realm of public service and academia that fill 12 pages of his curriculum vitae. After earning his Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scouts of America, he went on to graduate St. Louis High School in 1947 then earned an impressive list of degrees and accolades including two Masters from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. He kept up with Red Cross efforts while also being involved in the numerous civic institutions of his formative years such as the March of Dimes.

He felt like he had to be active in humanitarian relief after fighting in the Korean War. After serving as an infantryman in the Army, he returned to Hawai’i and became an Executive Vice President involved in the management of the Outrigger Hotel. Disasters and wars were depressingly frequent, and he was impressed with the Red Cross’ efforts. He began to get seriously involved with the organization. He joined the Hawai’i Chapter board in the ’50s and began attending national and international conferences as a delegate.

“At the conferences,” he says, “the pin trade was brisk. I’d meet a dozen people and we would swap pins at the end of our meetings.” But now, the Red Cross does its conferences via teleconference, and Red Cross volunteers only have a chance to meet during training events or deployments to disaster-stricken areas.

The pins are seldom larger than a quarter and are given to Red Cross volunteers as a memento of their service. A Hawai’i volunteer would probably get a handful of state pins and perhaps a few more for noble deeds like donating blood or fundraising. After a few years, the average volunteer might acquire a handful of pins from person-to-person swaps. “We have volunteers helping with disasters around the world,” and Felix says there are 60-plus Hawai’i volunteers assisting recovery efforts after 2017’s destructive hurricane season. “You can bet those volunteers will come back with quite a collection.”

There are easily 200 unique pins tastefully mounted, and displayed at the Hawai’i Chapter HQ near Diamond Head. He has a hundred more stashed or perhaps still on an old uniform in his closet. He says it’s unlikely his collection will be surpassed in the near future.

John Henry Felix had a major impact on the disaster-response community in the Pacific. He was Division Chair for the Pacific Region, tasked with supporting humanitarian efforts from Alaska to Tonga. He has the pins to prove it, but you can tell some are missing. He says three Southern Pacific chapters—North Mariana, American Samoa and Guam—haven’t issued unique pins (an opportunity for anyone reading this that might be so inclined).

“These pins represent my career with the Red Cross. They aren’t bragging rights because half the pins are from relief efforts I’ve never been a part of. My work with the Red Cross is all about uniting people for the simple goal of helping others. All of Red Cross’ efforts help people around the world, and the pins represent the community I’ve been a part of,” Felix says.

“Oh,” Felix mentions almost as an afterthought, “I was the first volunteer to receive the Henri Dunant Medal of Honor.” Only two have been awarded to Americans in the history of the International Red Cross. It’s framed in his office along with a congratulatory letter from then President Ronald Reagan. It’s less of a pin and more of an exclamation point on a life filled with selfless humanitarian work.

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