Larry Smith spent Christmas Day in a way that has become a tradition – having dinner with friends, enjoying the warmth of their home and hospitality. But as the weather reports warned of heavy snow marching into the Miami Valley, it was plain to Larry’s friends that his plans to donate blood the day after Christmas would have to change.
“They said, you’re not going to make it down there in the morning,” Larry said, with a smile on his face. “I said if the transportation is running, and Community Blood Center (CBC) is open, I’m going to make it.”
The future always looks a little different to Larry than it does to others. He has been blind from birth, he was abandoned as an infant, and he spent his early childhood in the unremitting darkness of an orphanage that drained his spirit and nearly broke his will. Despite those desperate beginnings, he managed to make his way in life. Making it a few miles in a snow storm to give blood, the 226th donation of his lifetime, just didn’t seem like a challenge.
The snow arrived as predicted on the morning of Dec. 26, but so did the Dayton RTA driver from Project Mobility. Larry had plenty of time to make his 10 a.m. appointment. “I did single platelets and plasma today,’ he said. “I enjoy giving. Something I learned a long time ago, a good charitable thing to do, helping someone, saving a life, that’s something I can do.”
The power of kindness, generosity toward a stranger, and the extraordinary way love can change and in fact save a life – these are vividly clear chapters in Larry’s life story, all written at the orphanage.
“My life was not very good,” Larry said. “My mother abandoned me at six months old. She left me on the doorstep and they found me the next day. I was raised in an orphanage, the Ohio School for the Blind, and those folks were mean. I was so thin, I never wanted to eat. My grades were all failing in school. By the time I was eight years old, I questioned why I was even alive. I had no desire to go on.”
Larry tells the story of those dark years with urgency, because they set the stage for the great light that came into his life. Her name was Indus Bennett, but to Larry she will always be his “angel.”
“A house mother came into my life, and she was like an angel to me,” says Larry. “She got me on vitamins, helped me get my weight up. She got permission from the home for me to go to Children’s Hospital in Columbus and got me an appointment. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. They got rid of all the old staff at the orphanage. Everything changed. My grades went up, I got stronger. She was really loving. I needed love in my life. That changed everything.”
Indus Bennett was truly the mother Larry never knew. He says her family worked a farm in Johnstown, OH and she lived to be 100 years old. She gave him reason to live, and the strength to build a life of his own.
In the early years of his blindness Larry could perceive changes in light, but that was eventually lost to glaucoma. But his self-reliance led him to a profession well suited for the blind. “I worked 40 years at Grandview Hospital as an X-ray technician,” he said. “It was a dark room job. It’s obsolete now, everything is digital now. They don’t use film anymore and everything is a lot quicker. But back then it was very common for blind people to work in dark rooms.”
He spent the last few years of his career at Southview Hospital and retired in 2002. He continues to live on his own, enjoying the company of friends, the freedom provided by Project Mobility, and the great satisfaction of being a CBC “Donor for Life.”
The Project Mobility bus arrived as Larry finished his cookies and juice and began the routine of collecting his coat, wool hat and foldable cane. The snow was coming down harder, but his 226th lifetime donation was now history, and he had made good on his promise to brave the storm as long as CBC was open.
When the bus driver walked in, CBC Donor Room Supervisor Robert Snowden kidded him, saying “Don’t let Larry talk you into letting him drive!” Then staff member Jowana Petroski reminded Larry that he was about to leave without his knit scarf, the CBC gift for donating.
“I’ll put it on right now,” Larry said. As Jowana helped him bundle up the words on the scarf “Blood Donor – Save Lives” fell across his chest. Others will read them, but not Larry. He doesn’t need to. These are words he knows by heart.