There will be at least 100 reasons to celebrate this year’s Gift of Life Marathon next month.
For 2020, the blood drive will be in celebration of longtime volunteer Mary Ojala, who will turn 100 on Sunday.
Ojala said that she’s asking anyone who wants to contribute to her birthday to consider making a blood donation on one of the days of the Gift of Life Marathon (GOLM), which this year are Dec. 5, 16-18.
“(A blood donation) affects a lot of people. None of us know how many. You might be saving one life or you could be saving several. It’s a very important thing to do,” she said.
Ojala said she had been chairwoman for volunteer organization for about 35 years. She retired from that position when she was 93.
“I used to be at the table after the donors had given blood. I would be at that table where they would get coffee and some refreshments and I got to meet a lot of nice people. I’m still friends with them for years,” she said.
Describing her time as a volunteer, Ojala said she was too old to give blood herself at the time. She said she would encourage some people who were nervous themselves giving blood for the first time.
“Once they’ve done it, they continue to do it, so it’s not so bad,” she said.
A release announcing the dedication of the GOLM to Ojala’s centennial celebration said she had been a part of the events for as long as its existed.
“Mary is one of the most giving people I’ve ever met, so honoring her in this way and asking others to give in her name is really fitting,” said Steve Costello, vice president at Green Mountain Power and one of the GOLM organizers.
Ojala said she came to Vermont because her husband was a building contractor from Vermont and he was able to find work in the Green Mountain State.
After the last of her eight children went to school, Ojala became the activities director at the Beverly Manor nursing home.
“When the head of the Red Cross, she was a friend of mine, we were both activities directors. She was in one nursing home and I was in the other, and when she heard I was retiring, she asked me if I would be willing to try (volunteering for blood drives.) So I tried it and then I did for 30 some-odd years,” she said.
An article written for the Red Cross said Ojala was the longest-serving volunteer for the Northern New England Region
Mary Brant, external communications manager for the Northern New England American Red Cross, who wrote the article, called Ojala an “amazing woman.” Brant said she primarily gathered the information for her article from Ojala’s family but added, “The energy she has at 100 years old is pretty awesome.”
Brant said she remains inspired by a quote Ojala gave her for the article.
“One of the great joys of my life has been the gift of volunteering with the Red Cross and other nonprofit organizations. I wish for everyone who reads this that they will reach out and share whatever gifts they have to give with others; I promise them that they will meet so many interesting people and have so much fun they will wonder why they waited so long,” said Ojala for the article.
Appointments are now available for GOLM, sponsored by Catamount Radio and Green Mountain Power, with support from Casella Waste Systems and Farrell Distributing.
Blood will be collected from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8 at Fair Haven American Legion; from noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at Rutland American Legion; from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 17 also at the Rutland American Legion; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Rutland Recreation Community Center at the campus of the former College of St. Joseph.
Appointments are strongly encouraged and may be made by visiting www.redcrossblood.org or calling 800-RED-CROSS. Because of Covid19, the American Red Cross is taking special precautions to protect donors and staff, practice social distancing and ensure a safe blood supply.
Rutlander Stefanie Schaffer, a Castleton University graduate and inspirational speaker who has spoken about her recovery after losing both legs and suffering other injuries in a boat explosion in the Bahamas in 2019, will be among the ambassadors for the 2020 GOLM.
Birthday cards for Mary Ojala may be sent to her in care of Carl Ojala, 376 Orchard Hill, Pittsford, VT 05763.