Wise guy: Castleberry honored for service in times of need

By Racey Burden | Published Saturday, June 23, 2018

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Known among local first responders as “the Wise Guy,” Melvin Castleberry is the face of the Red Cross in the county.

MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN – Melvin Castleberry of Wise County’s Red Cross has a reputation for working behind the scenes to help displaced families and first responders. He received the Community Spirit award from the Texoma Chapter of the Red Cross last week. Messenger photo by Racey Burden

He can be found at community fairs asking passersby to volunteer, or at house fires giving the firemen food and finding the homeowners a place to sleep for the night. After a disaster, he’s the one officials call to help pick up the pieces – for a while, due to lack of volunteers, he was the only one taking those calls. And last week Castleberry, the head of Wise’s Disaster Action Team, was honored by the Texoma Chapter of the Red Cross with the Community Spirit award, which is given in recognition of “exceptional partnership with the community.”

“If this person performed on stage, he’d be a one-man band,” said Doug Crowson, the executive director of the Texoma chapter, when presenting Castleberry with the award. Castleberry could be heard talking about Red Cross no matter where he was, Crowson said, whether it be in line at the grocery store or during a presentation at a school.

“I was choking back tears, man,” Castleberry said of receiving the award. “For them to say such nice things says a lot about the Texoma chapter of the Red Cross.”

In addition to the Community Spirit award from the Red Cross, Castleberry also received the President’s Volunteer Service award from the White House.

“You volunteer, and for someone to say thank you for your service is really nice,” Castleberry said. “I was told I was getting [the President’s Volunteer Service] award, but it’s a national award and I don’t go anywhere else except Wise County.”

Castleberry first started volunteering for the Red Cross in Wise two years ago. He admits he was uncertain about joining the organization, not knowing how much support it had in Wise County.

“I went to three meetings before I signed on. I didn’t want to throw good after bad,” he said.

Castleberry actually received quite a bit of support from the regional Red Cross and from several local charities and companies. That support enables him to pay for booths at conventions, give families who’ve lost their homes money for hotel stays and bring pizza and hamburgers to firefighters on long calls, which is one of his favorite things to do.

“They’ve been fighting fires for three to four hours, giving everything they have,” Castleberry said. “And they see the Whataburger and they thank me. They’re the heroes, putting their lives on the line to save people’s homes.”

Wise County Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Powell calls Castleberry “the man behind the curtain.”

“He’s everybody’s best friend,” Powell said. “We give him a call, and he’s there within 30 to 45 minutes with food and drinks. He always asks how many people you’ve got, and he adds 10 to that. He knows firefighters like to eat.

“Ten or 2 in the morning, it doesn’t matter. He’s out there, not just for the firemen but for the families. Whatever their needs are, he’s on top of that.”

Castleberry and Powell are currently working on shelter agreements with schools and churches, so in the event of a massive disaster the displaced have somewhere to go within the county.

“He’s been a great help on that project,” Powell said. “He offered to help find volunteers and locations. Anything you need, he’s there.”

Castleberry is also partnering with local fire departments to start the Sound the Alarm campaign, which installs free smoke detectors in homes.

“Good things are happening,” Castleberry said.

And he’s always looking for volunteers. Castleberry said working for the Red Cross is a great way to give back to the community in whatever way you can, and you’ll be rewarded in turn by those you help.

“I’ve got some awards and that’s nice,” he said, “but I’ve been rewarded with tears of gratitude and hugs.”

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