By Konstantine Fekos
Between old uniforms from his time in the Air Force to pay stubs from his days working at Penelec, Meadville’s Joseph Kerr saves just about everything: including lives.
At 70 years old, Kerr is perhaps one of the American Red Cross’ most prominent blood donors after recently donating his 200th consecutive pint.
Kerr knows most of the local Red Cross staff by name, as he’s spent about 33 years donating on a regular basis.
“He shows up wherever he can every 56 days,” said Kathie Roae, local Red Cross blood drive coordinator. “We’re always glad to see him. He always has a big smile on his face, and he’s saved a lot of people.”
Depending on individual needs, blood transfusions can require whole pints or utilize three separate products derived from a pint: platelets, plasma and red cells.
Blood collected by the Red Cross at various locations around Crawford and surrounding counties are distributed nationally, according to Roae.
With 200 pints in the bag, Kerr’s dedication to donation has potentially saved up to 600 people.
“Unless you’re a doctor, you probably can’t say you’ve helped save that many people,” Roae said. “That’s a big thing to us. A lot of people out there are glad he’s such a loyal donor.”
Most of Kerr’s humanitarian inspiration comes from his own experience in 1967, when he needed roughly one third of his blood replaced during a life-saving procedure that followed a tragic incident.
“I was rebuilding power lines (with Penelec) on Route 8 before Interstate 80 was even open,” he said. “A fellow and I were getting materials out of our truck when another truck hit us.”
The impact of a frozen food truck killed Kerr’s coworker and left Kerr with a broken back and right hip. He spent about six weeks lying down when doctors told him he would recover but probably never climb poles for his line of work again.
Three years later, Kerr made a full physical and psychological recovery and resumed his career repairing damaged power lines.
Around 1973, when a coworker of his mentioned a blood drive, Kerr felt he needed to return a favor and began giving consistently with a goal of donating 100 pints.
“That was his goal at first,” said Kerr’s wife, Linda. “Then his ‘ultimate’ goal was to try for 200. Now, he plans to go as long as he can.”
At a steady rate of one pint, six times a year, he reached both goals and, of course, saved his donor cards and various Red Cross recognitions along the way.
“He’s very faithful to it; he enjoys it,” Linda said. “And he saves everything.”
Well into 12 years of retirement from Penelec, Kerr maintains an active lifestyle, tending to his grapes, caring for his dog and keeping up on yard work.
“I’m in pretty good shape for 70,” he said. “I enjoy keeping busy. I like being outdoors.”
“He hardly sits down,” Linda said. “He’s always helping somebody do something.”
Helping people seems to run in his veins, after all. Had he started giving blood at his current age, he believes the Red Cross might not have accepted. Given his track record, however, Kerr expects to donate as long as he is healthy and able.
The Red Cross is seeing greater numbers of long-time donors, according to Roae, who mentioned one donor giving his 150th pint when Kerr gave his 200th.
“Now that they’ve been donating for so long, we’re starting to see huge amounts from a lot of loyal donors,” she said. “We’re very glad to have so many loyal donors.”
-More information: Visit redcrossblood.org.
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU CAN HELP
Crawford County blood drives are open to the public. Donors are accepted up to the last minute of each drive.
-Today from 2 to 7 p.m. at St. Philips Parish Center, 401 South Mercer St., Linesville
Tuesday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Laurel Technical Institute, 628 Arch St., Suite B105, Meadville
Tuesday from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Meadville Community Center, 1034 Park Ave., Meadville
Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. at Crawford County Care Center, 20881 Route 198, Saegertown