CENTERVILLE, OH – The annual John P. Kalaman Memorial Blood Drive awakens memories both loving and painful. Monday, April 28 marked the 17th year the blood drive has served as a posthumous birthday celebration for the young Centerville Police officer struck and killed while helping an injured motorist on an icy interstate in 1998. It is a family reunion – for the Kalaman family, the Centerville community, and the law enforcement family – where John never ages and the mission remains the same: saving lives in his name through blood donations.
Since the first memorial blood drive in 1998 (held on Kalaman’s April 27th birthday) nearly 3,900 donations have been made in his honor. Monday’s blood drive added to the legacy with 84 registrations, including 11 first-time donors, and 73 donations for 104% of the collection goal.
John’s parents John and Paula Kalaman have served every year as blood drive coordinators. Paula got the idea on a visit to Community Blood Center (CBC) while John, Sr. was donating. The first drive was held where she worked at Bethany Lutheran Village (now Graceworks Lutheran Services). The turn-out was overwhelming. “We didn’t have enough beds to handle the crowd and a lot of people had to leave because they couldn’t wait,” recalled John. “The next year we handled the crowd a lot better.”
After 10 years it moved to the spacious training room at the Centerville Police Department. Traditions continue, including the birthday cake with the Centerville Police Department badge in icing. The Kalamans spend the entire day on their feet, chatting with old friends and family, meeting new donors, serving cake and cookies. The 17th blood drive was both familiar and new:
9 a.m. – John Kalaman is always among the first to donate. Tuesday marked his 148th lifetime donation. The drive is busy as Centerville officers on the day shift arrive early. “I donate every eight weeks,” said Sgt. Jim Shanesy. “I’m like Jim,” said Capt. Mark Casey. “I give every eight weeks, but we have to plan it to be eligible for this one every year.”
10 a.m. – Sgt. Mike Yoder donates after the first wave of donors. “I came in early,” he said. “I have court today and my shift start at 4 p.m. I always try to donate here to remember John Kalaman, support the Kalaman family, and give blood.” “I might have missed a few times,” says Detective Dan Osterfeld, “but I try to make it every year I can.”
“I’ve got my red Kalaman Golf Tournament shirt on and my pin from the Police Officers Memorial, “says regular Kalman blood drive donor John Yensel, an 11-year community volunteer with the Centerville Police Department.
11 a.m. – The first TV cameraman arrives. John and Paula decide that Paula will do the first interview. “We think of this as a birthday celebration for John” she tells WDTN-TV. “It brings the community together and we meet new people every year.”
Centerville Officer Tony Beran was on vacation but came to donate. “I do remember,” he said of John’s death. “I was working for Miamisburg Police. Later we came over and worked for the funeral.”
12 p.m. – The lunch time crowd fills the donor beds. “This is my first time donating at the blood drive,” says Greg Kooyman, a member of the Blue Knights, a motorcycle club with many retired law officers as members. “John talked to our group and handed out flyers.”
“I’ve donated almost every single year,” says Huber Height Police officer Aaron Harlow. “I was actually working for Centerville Police at the time of John’s death. I try hard not to miss it.”
“I would donate at community blood drives,” said donor Brian Mace. “Once I became aware it was for John Kalaman I try to donate every year.”
1 p.m. – Paula’s sister Suzanne Perry and her family from the West Chester area begin arriving to donate. They often come by motorcycle, but the morning’s heavy rainfall called for a change in plans. “They hug everybody that comes in to donate, not just family!” says Suzanne as she donates. Her son Michael makes a double-red blood cell donation. He was 10 years old when his cousin John was killed. “I have not missed since I turned 17,” he said. “I remember the first time I was the youngest and the oldest donor was 92 and he had just finished when I started.”
Michael’s dad Larry arrives for his double-red blood cell donation, his 27th lifetime donation in John’s honor. “I started donating right after John died,” he said. “We donate every time up here and sometimes at the CBC West Chester branch. We will continue to support this because it’s a great cause.”
JoAnn Daniel and Doug Gaudette from the Kettering Police Department drove together to the blood drive. JoAnn makes her first lifetime donation, and admits to being recruited by Doug. “I worked here for the Centerville Police for six years,” Doug said. “I was at the Police Academy in Columbus when it happened.”
2 p.m. – A cameraman from WHIO-TV arrives and the donor beds are still full. He takes video of donors Joe Daniel and Kathy Welde. It’s John’s turn to handle the interview. “This is one way to remember John and honor his sacrifice to his community,” he says. “Paula says in this way he has touched more lives than if he had lived, and he is still touching mine.”
Joe and Kathy wait for John to finish so they can say hello. Kathy’s son Jesse, a Down syndrome child, took Taekwondo martial arts classes with John, Sr. “John worked with him quite a bit,” she said. “They were sparring partners.”
John remembers Jesse well. The original plan was for father and son Kalaman to take the class together. “I had been interested in martial arts for many years,” he said. “The plan was for John to test for his first belt and I would begin and he would always be one belt ahead. When John was killed that kind of blew that dream out.” A year and a half later, John decided to take the classes on his own. He didn’t stop until he was breaking boards and concrete block to earn his third-degree black belt.
3 p.m. – Sgt. Kurt Althouse from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department makes his 15th lifetime donation in John’s honor. Three months before John’s death they went through forensic training together at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab to become evidence technicians. Kurt was working for Jefferson Township Police when he learned during roll call that a Centerville officer had been killed in an accident. “They didn’t tell us who it was,” he said. He went to Centerville to find out. “When they said it was John… I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day.”
4 p.m. – WKEF/WRGT-TV arrives and John Kalaman gives his final interview. “The Centerville area has not forgotten,” he said. “Some of those who came in here may not have known John, but it gives them an opportunity to donate and that’s a good thing. It’s gratifying to be part of a community reaching out to help others.”
5 p.m. – Planning begins for the 18th annual John P. Kalaman Memorial Blood Drive, April 27, 2015.