June 22, 2022

FORT LORAMIE, Ohio - The Boerger family, their many friends, and some 358 blood donors rang the bell for Irene at the June 21 Country Fun Blood Drive at St. Michael's Hall.

What better way to honor Irene's legacy than by her keeping her 22-year-old blood drive record unmatched but challenging it in a way she could only admire.

The blood drive was dedicated to Irene Boerger who served as the Community Blood Center account representative in Shelby County for 38 years and passed away in 2021. It included a drawing for two tickets to "Country Concert 22" in Fort Loramie, a tradition started by Irene.

The family set an ambitious goal of recruiting 500 donors, hoping to surpass the record of 495 donors set exactly 22 years ago on June 21, 2000 at St. Michael's Hall.

Tuesday's blood drive totaled 358 whole blood, double red cell, platelet and plasma donors, topping 104% of the collection goal set by CBC. It was a 42% increase in donors compared to the 2021 Country Fund Blood Drive

Another goal was to attract first-time donors. Tuesday's blood drive had 19 new donors, a 280% jump from a year ago.

"I feel really pride," said Irene's daughter Diane Meyer, who coordinated the blood drive with Jane Poeppelman and Roger Bender and made her 342nd lifetime donation.

"Mom has been gone for eight months and people are still coming to donate and talk about mom. I know we set the goal for 500 but we set it big for a reason. I think the blood center is happy with the number we brought in. My mom would have been thrilled."

The challenge was steep because of how blood collection has changed. St. Michael's Hall now hosts six community blood drives per year and there are many more blood drives in and around Shelby County. They acknowledged a more obtainable goal might be 350 donors.

"We set our goals high," said Roger Bender. "We didn't reach the pie in the sky goal, but we exceeded the official goal. She would be pleased."

Irene's record may be one for the ages. "Tuesday was a big day for Community Blood Center and people who give the 'gift of life,'" said the June 21, 2000 story in the Sidney Daily News.

"What an experience," Irene told the SDN. "People were stopping in all day long to talk. Some had received blood, so they were thanking donors for their generosity. It was a very special day."

Tuesday was also a special day. It rivaled the 382 single-day donors at the 2012 Miami Greek Week Blood Drive and topped the 335 at the 2009 Country Fun Blood Drive.

Boerger siblings Diane, Sharon Brandewie, Julie Gaier, Nancy Havener, and Frank Boerger used the 2000 blood drive as a blueprint Tuesday's remembrance.

They rang Irene's bell and blew a train whistle to celebrate milestone donors and announce door prizes. Red paint on a blood drop poster marked the progress toward the donor goal.  Just as 22 years ago, they decorated a Sidney Fire Department engine with blood drive posters and it circled the town, with horns blaring, to drum up a few more donors for the blood drive.

Unique to this blood drive was a balloon launch and the release of live butterflies to begin the day.

"When our dad died, she picked up the butterfly symbol because it means a new beginning," announced Diane. "She carried it over to the blood center because when you give the gift of life it's a new beginning to someone who needs the product. Watch these butterflies fly up to the sky and say hello to mom."

Donors placed butterfly stickers on a poster of Irene when they entered the hall and filled out tickets for the every-half-hour door prize drawings.

"This her bell, and this is her train whistle," said Irene's son Frank as he used the noisemakers to get the blood drive rolling. Irene's grandson Chris Meyer was one of the first to donate.

"I got my donation in! I wanted to hit our threshold and get to the big number," said Chris. "My grandma has been doing this for years, always asking people to donate and helping others."

"I remember the whistle," said donor Jack Hoying. "You had to hit the gallon mark. It was nice to have, and it was nice to be recognized by Irene."

"I remember the cowbell, said Russian donor Ed Grogan. "She was a clown too! She liked to joke around! I miss her."

"She was definitely one of kind, and creative," said Roger Bender. "She was constantly dreaming up ways to encourage people to donate. She knew if she could get someone to donate once, she might get them back."

"She's why Shelby County is where we are in blood drives," said Jane Poeppelman. "You say her name in the county and they know who you are talking about, a legend. When you have a great foundation, you have a great structure. St. Michael's Hall is a big hall, but it's full."

The blood drive depended again on volunteers and sponsors from the Fort Loramie American Legion Ladies Auxiliary, the Fort Loramie Community Service Club, St. Michael's Church and the Knights of St. John.

In the first two hours the bell rang for the first 100 donors, and for milestones.

Keith Bey gave double red cells to reach 101 lifetime donations. "I was excited," he said. "It's a big occasion, kind of big deal for the blood center and Irene."

Bill Tady celebrated his 200th donation. His AB blood type is ideal for plasma donations. "Irene got me on that a long time ago," he said. "I was always doing whole blood and she said, 'Can't you do plasma?'"

St. Remy's Hall coordinator Carl York visited from Russia to show support for the family.  "We started with one blood drive a year at St. Remy's," said Carl. "Irene was always there."

At midday Nancy added red to the blood drop to mark 200 donors.

"This would mean everything to mom, everything," said Nancy. "She would be so honored. Carl York came from Russia to be part of this. She started him as a blood donor. This community keeps giving back. When they support you, they support you."

"The Country Concert started, and mom gave away tickets," said Sharon Brandewie, Irene's oldest daughter. "She paid for them herself for years. Whenever she bought prizes, she used Fort Loramie businesses to support the community."

Lee Dabbel, godson to Irene's late husband Frank, came from New Bremen to make his first lifetime donation. "I got the email from Diane and said, 'You know I've never done this before, now is as good as time as ever. I owe it to her."

Tom Albers, long time blood drive coordinator at Sacred Heart Parish, came from McCartyville to donate. "She was a nice lady," said Tom. "You didn't tell her how to do a blood draw, she was set in her ways! I was at a Wright State basketball game and heard, 'Hello Tom!' She picked me out of the crowd. She remembered people."

At 5:30 p.m. Nancy announced, "We're up to 312!" Christian McGee, a senior at Fort Loramie High, made first lifetime donation and said, "My mom got me into it!"

When it was time for the 6 p.m. mass at St. Michael's for Irene, the goal of 500 appeared out of reach. "What else could we do?" said Diane. "We had to go for a new record, if we didn't mom would be so mad! I'll send everyone who came a hand-written thank you note. That's what she would do."

In the final hour of the blood drive a final tribute came from Todd Koverman, who made his first lifetime donation.

Todd was 12 years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. His classmates shaved their heads to support him as he went through chemotherapy, and Irene adopted him as the spokesperson for the county-wide "Battle of the Badges" blood drives.

"Because of all this he always had a soft spot for mom, and mom always had a soft spot for him," said Diane.

"I was under the impression that I couldn't donate," said Todd. "I give Diane the credit. She said to try and see. I'm glad she did."

For Todd, it was a 28-year journey from recipient to donor in honor of Irene.

"I had been diagnosed for maybe about a year and I was receiving a lot of blood at that time," he said. "It's pretty amazing stuff.  You wouldn't believe the energy it gives you. I remember I got two pints that day and I felt like I could run a mile - it made such a difference!

"I've always wanted to give back but didn't know it was possible. To give back to someone, it makes you feel good inside. Especially when you're the one receiving it. You realize how awesome it is."