TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Rechkemmers drove to a blood donation center in Tucson on a wet, gloomy Friday afternoon like they have for nearly 20 years.
When Norm and Janis started their wintertime donations in southern Arizona, the Red Cross needed the couple to fax their information from their local center in Illinois. Plenty about the process has changed since then, but their effort remains the same.
“We don’t go on mission trips,” Janis Rechkemmer said. "Our focus has always been here. ... What could be more diversified than to give blood? Every age, every religion, everything ... it’s just going.”
Together, the Rechkemmers have donated more than 170 gallons of blood and 1,500 units of platelets throughout their 20-year tradition.
Their efforts began long before arriving in the Tucson area. The two were some of the first to donate platelets at their center in Illinois in the 1980s. They were donating whole blood long before that and have experienced all sorts of ups and downs in between.
“Back in Peoria, one time, there was a tornado warning while we were giving and they had to shut everybody off,” Norm Rechkemmer said.
Before they leave their home in Saddlebrooke to make their appointment, the two Christians gather essential items like gloves, books and an iPad.
“We always pray for the person who’s going to get our donations because we know they’re hurting,” Janis Rechkemmer said.
The Rechkemmers knew that hurt years ago when their young grandson was diagnosed with cancer. Norm Rechkemmer said platelets gave the family a memorable final night together.
"He had a unit of platelets that night and he rallied and really felt good that night," he said. "We were all able to spend some time with him and say goodbye to him.”
Once donated, platelets need to be shared within five days. Whole blood can last much longer. Both are always in need, according to Fixed Site Ops Supervisor Robert Ochoa. He's the one who nominated the Rechkemmers for the Association of Fundraising Professionals Southern Arizona Chapter Spirit of Philanthropy Award.
"I couldn't think of any two people more deserving," he said. "They come in here together and they have a wonderful mission."
The couple intends to continue that mission as long as they remain in good health. They accepted the award earlier this month in front of hundreds of people at the Tucson Convention Center for association’s annual luncheon.