With the next Redwood Falls blood drive coming up next week, the Gazette takes a look at some of the volunteers who organize the event four times a year....
Every four months, up to 75 volunteers step forward to hold a blood drive in Redwood Falls.
Someone has to make sure all that happens smoothly. With several recent personnel changes in the Redwood Falls blood drive effort, the Gazette talked to several of the organizers who make it happen.
“I donated for the first time when I was 17,” said Julie Wohlman, the new co-coordinator of the Redwood Falls blood drives.
It was 1979, and Wohlman was a high school student in Coon Rapids.
“I used to volunteer at the school blood drives, taking donors by the arm and leading them from the tables to the snack area,” Wohlman said.
“It was funny, but it was always the big football players who would step off the table and drop to the ground.”
Wohlman donated regularly for the next few years. Then, with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, unfounded rumors spread that people were getting the disease just from donating blood.
After a few years break while the rumors worked themselves out, Wohlman began volunteering at blood drives again, and went back to donating.
Then, last March, Wohlman went in to see the doctor about having some minor surgery.
“I went in to have a pre-op physical before having surgery for a deviated septum in my nose,” Wohlman said. “While I was having the physical they noticed a heart murmur.”
Further tests showed Wohlman had a faulty valve in her heart. Twelve hours later, she was wheeled into the operating room for heart surgery.
“While I was in intensive care afterward, my blood was running really low, so I got three pints of blood,” said Wohlman.
“Later, when I got the bill, I saw there was no charge for the units of blood. I’d heard that if you’re a blood donor you don’t have to pay to receive blood, so I guess it’s true.”
One side effect of the surgery, however, is that Wohlman can never donate blood again.
“I’m on a medication to thin my blood, and will be on it for the rest of my life,” she said this week. “Now I’ll have to help out the blood drives in other ways.”
Wohlman’s new way to contribute: as of this month, she’s the new co-coordinator of the Redwood Falls blood drive system, sharing duties with long-time organizer Laura Kohler.
“This blood drive (July 22-23) is the first I’ve helped at as a co-coordinator,” she said. “I’ll be fully active for the October drive.”
Judy Curtis has been a calling coordinator since the mid-1980s, in charge of the effort to remind donors to drop by.
“When I started out we called about 480 people to donate,” she said this week. “With cell phones, we can only attempt to call up to about 250 donors. Can you imagine how many donors we could have if we could contact all the cell phone users?”
“The first time I donated blood I was turned down,” laughed Rosemary March this week. “I drank too much water and pop while playing bridge the night before.
It’s ironic then that March went on to become a valued member of the local bloodmobile team for nearly 18 years.
March retired from her job in October 1995. Almost the next day, she started volunteering for the blood drives, calling potential donors to remind them the bloodmobile was coming.
“In 1998 I became a co-coordinator,” she said, and was put in charge of contacting various churches and service organizations getting treats, supplies, and volunteers for the canteen area.
“The first time I went to businesses asking if they’d donate money for supplies, every one of them donated anywhere from five dollars to $25,” March said. “After Hurricane Katrina, local businesses donated over $400 for bloodmobile supplies.”
March recently had to retire from helping out at the blood drives because of health reasons.
With this month’s bloodmobile visit, March’s place is being taken by Margi Altmann — who donated blood for the first time last April.
“I retired last January, and called Laura to ask if I could help out,” Altmann said. “I’ve got a tough act to follow. I had no idea it takes so many people all working behind the scenes to have a blood drive.”
Curtis added, “But if everyone does their share, it’s easy.”
March said, “People have to be committed to volunteer since we do four blood drives a year. Each one takes about a month to organize.”
Curtis said, “And that time rolls around very quickly, but people rise to the occasion. It’s really a community process.”
(The next Redwood Falls blood drive is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, July 22-23, at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church from 1-7 p.m. each day.
For more information, call Laura Kohler at 507-640-0209.)