CHARLIE KLESTADT—Cruz Roja, and Blessings
By Margaret Ann Porter
Charlie and Ann Klestadt celebrated their 542nd month of marriage over dinner at Roberto’s the other night. I didn’t recognize him because he wasn’t wearing his green, white and red 16th of September top-hat, and his hands weren’t full of Cruz Roja raffle tickets. He explained, his eyes twinkling, “Ann and I do this once a month, instead of only once a year.” She looked delighted and he seemed relaxed, and I couldn’t help but think that no one deserved it more – to be out on a starry night with his beloved, celebrating blessings.
Charlie will dislike that last sentence. The concept of ‘deserving’ something is not in his ken, which I learned after I’d approached him about a profile for the Ojo. “I want any story about me to be about Cruz Roja and all the people who work to make it happen,” he insisted, “and not about me, or my accident.”
Last year, Charlie was injured in a hit-and-run while crossing the street, but has since made a full recovery. As a memento of the incident, he’s keeping the rip in his right ear, which lends him a certain ‘extraterrestrial’ élan. When asked about it, he spreads his fingers Vulcan-style and intones, “Live long and prosper.” You can’t help but laugh and feel warmly toward the generous soul in front of you.
Cruz Roja is our local Red Cross, consisting of a clinic staffed by a medical team and support personnel, plus the local ambulance service. There are two communities involved in its governance and finance – Mexican and expatriate – with numerous volunteer groups that form respective and collective committees.
In addition to leading the fund raising for the Volunteer Committee, Charlie takes pride in the progress of Cruz Roja operations and its people. “We have a great medical team at the clinic right now, probably the best there has ever been,” he says. “Dr. Sam did a lot to ensure that quality and pride was reflected in the team’s work. Then there are people like Norm Pifer, who really make things go.” He also mentions Mike Patino, a seven-year international Red Cross volunteer, who often lends counsel to the medical team.
The stories of praiseworthy Mexican and ex-pat volunteers flow from Charlie’s impressively detailed memory. Finally, he chuckles, “I’d better stop naming names because there have been, and still are, so many great people in our organization, too numerous to mention. I appreciate every one of them.”
It costs at least $310,000 pesos to fund the clinic and ambulance service each and every month. About half of the money comes from donations for medical assistance at the clinic and ambulance transport donations. (Everybody pays something; only 18% of all patients served pay nothing.) Each month, the Volunteer Committee is on the hook for the other half – about $155,000 pesos – raised largely from raffle ticket sales, events proceeds, the canisters and LCS table donations, as well as donations direct to Cruz Roja Mexicana, Chapala bank accounts and walk-in donations at the clinics.
“It’s a cash business, and that can be a little tricky,” Charlie says. “The cash must come in each month so that we can operate the clinic and emergency services.” That’s why he’s out there, raffle tickets in-hand, asking for your involvement in the monthly miracle.
If our values define who we are, then I wondered where Charlie got his gift of humility. In 1938, Charlie’s parents – Kurt and Martha (Nauman) – fled Nazi Germany and settled in New Jersey. Charlie, an only child, was born in 1944 in Newark, where the family struggled with disadvantage but never lost its faith in the promise of America.
“When I was a teen, I’d hear my father tell stories of what it was like to live under the Nazis, and how my parents got out, but how many in our family did not.” Like many adolescent males, Charlie disapproved of his father’s meekness in the face of such an enormous evil.
“I thought that he had been sort of a wimp,” he says, his face aghast as he recalls his youthful lack of any real understanding. “But as I grew up, I began to see the beauty in my father – he had been forced to endure and pay witness to all that horror, and yet he was still able to keep his spirit intact. He was the gentlest, good man I have ever known, never bitter. Once I realized these things, I wanted to be just like him. And I’m still trying.”
Charlie met Ann Miller while she was attending the Women’s College at Rutgers and he was over at the Newark College of Engineering. They married in 1969 and have one son, Marty. Charlie retired in 2006 as a vice-president of marketing at Mobil Oil and followed the Mexico-bound Ann to Ajijic. They’re a close-knit, supportive trio. “We’re really lucky to have each other,” he says, his eyes shining.
When asked to name his top dreams and concerns about Cruz Roja, Charlie says, “We need to rebuild the Chapala Clinic, but it would cost $10 million pesos to do it right.” The funding would be split between the federal, state and international Red Cross, with an equal share coming from the local community.
“My concerns are that we keep the medical team we have, improve professionalism and do more hands-on training,” he says. He also cites the need for more expatriates to step up and help with fund-raising and to serve on the volunteer board. “I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do some meaningful work for my community. But it is real work, and we need people willing to get down into the nitty gritty of it.”
If you happen to see our local blessing, Charlie Klestadt, support Cruz Roja by making a donation or purchasing a raffle ticket. More, commit to regular financial support and ask how you can become a hands-on volunteer.
Cruz Roja: How to donate: (Put in a box)
Charlie Klestadt or any other raffle volunteer can accept donations.
Cruz Roja table at the LCS during opening hours.
Canisters in various locations.
Walk-in donations are accepted at the clinic in Chapala.
One-time online donations at www.cruzrojachapala.com, a US 501(c) (3) Note: Cruz Roja is working on monthly online payments; stay tuned.