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  • Writer's pictureNEIA Red Cross

45 Years of Helping to Save Lives

Kathy Iske and the American Legion Auxiliary 216 celebrated 45 years of hosting blood drives with cupcakes.

The first time Kathy Iske attended a blood drive was in 1977. It was the first blood drive hosted by the American Legion Auxiliary 216 in Gretna, Nebraska, and Iske was selected to be the drive’s Blood Program Leader, responsible for securing the location, recruiting donors and assisting with setting up for the blood drive.

This week, Auxiliary 216 celebrated 45 years of hosting blood drives, and Iske, now 87 years old, has been there the whole time.

“I didn’t know much about what took place,” Iske said, referring to that first drive in 1977. “I had to learn it all. The volunteers were great, and we all worked together to get it done.”

Iske, Gretna’s 2012 Citizen of the Year, has a passion for blood donation. She and other volunteers from Auxiliary 216 work the room at the blood drives, signing in donors, presenting donors who reach milestones in their giving with certificates and encouraging everyone to make their next appointment before they leave.

Through 45 years, more than 7,000 units have been donated through Auxiliary 216’s blood drives.

Briana DeSadier (left) of the Red Cross presented Kathy Iske and members of the American Legion in Gretna, Nebraska, with a certificate commemorating 45 years of hostnig blood drives.

Iske joined the American Legion in 1970 and is currently Vice President of the Auxiliary, having previously served as President multiple times. For 45 years, she has called donors to fill up the appointment slots, publicize the opportunities to donate and helped on the day of the blood drives.

“We have a lot of regulars who make an appointment and come donate each time but, with Gretna growing so quickly, we are seeing new people coming to give,” said Iske, who has lived in Gretna nearly her entire life, with the exception of a short time in Omaha.

Mike Laughlin and his wife Sharon routinely donate at the blood drive in Gretna. “We had given before, but when our daughter was hospitalized a few years ago and needed blood, we knew we wanted to become regular donors. We’ve been coming here (to Gretna) ever since.” Laughlin said.

Iske became a dedicated blood donor herself and has given more than 13 gallons. “I’m working on my 14th gallon. I’m close,” she said. That includes three years when her doctor told her she couldn’t donate after having four heart stents inserted.

When asked why she is so dedicated to these blood drives, she answered with a question of her own: “What other humanitarian project can help so many people?” she said.

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