GREENVILLE, Ohio – It’s hard to believe that self-proclaimed “Buckeyeman” Larry Lokai has been the red-faced, crazy-haired “super fan” of Ohio State football since 1998 – long before Facebook, photobombing and viral videos made instant fame easy. Larry kept the faith with fellow lifelong Buckeyes by returning to Greenville Tuesday, Nov. 10 to support the hard work of the Darke County OSU Alumni Club and its 22nd annual “Tailgate Blood Drive.”
The Darke County alumni chapter has some faithful members who graduated years before Larry earned his first degree at OSU in 1967. Some are no longer able to help with the club’s many projects, which include fundraising events to support OSU scholarships for local students.
Despite that challenge, club members answered the call at Tuesday’s blood drive by filling a six-hour volunteer schedule and serving 144 donors at the Greenville Church of the Brethren. The result was 124 whole blood units collected by Community Blood Center, plus 11 platelet and plasma donations, for 103 percent of the collection goal.
“Everybody’s been busy,” said Jan Boyer, blood drive coordinator and secretary of the alumni club. “I worried about getting enough cookies, but I did! Everybody comes through in the end, and we always have plenty of volunteers.”
Jan is optimistic about the future of the club. They are recruiting new members and broadening the base by sponsoring OSU campus visits for high school juniors and seniors. “We have a new drive to get younger people,” she said. “The university has assigned a representative to help with that effort, and the alumni association is helping us.”
Some of the regular volunteers at the blood drive included Shirla Neff, Kay Girbert, Marilyn Graeff, Ruth Koverman, Mary Roush and Jean McLear. Jan Boyer counted on her club’s teamwork to make 300 of the classic peanut butter and chocolate Buckeyes, plus an assortment of homemade cookies, cheese and crackers for the traditional “Tailgate Party” in the Donor Café.
There were also OSU gifts for door prizes and everyone who registered to donate received the CBC “Buckeye Blood Donor” football t-shirt. Larry Lokai worked the room in his “Buckeyeman” outfit, visiting donors, CBC staff and volunteers, taking pictures in front of the giant inflatable “Brutus” and handing out his hand-made buckeye necklaces.
“I’m a fan, even though I’m not that much on football,” said Kasity Gregg, a 2015 Arcanum High School graduate who made her sixth lifetime donation Tuesday.
“I hadn’t donated in a while,” said Greenville’s Joyce Homan after making her 8th lifetime donation, the equivalent of one gallon. “What’s really cool is now they call you to tell you where your blood was used! It really makes that connection.”
Once again, the “Tailgate Blood Drive” became a day when everyone is a Buckeye, and everyone can feel good about being a neighbor helping save the life of a neighbor.
‘BUCKEYEMAN’ LARRY LOKAI IS A BUCKEYE FOR LIFE
Larry Lokai estimates he has made more than 35,500 buckeye necklaces. He provides a buckeye for every freshman and new student at Ohio State. In 2013 he received national attention when he was honored for giving away one million buckeyes. He estimates the number has now passed 1.3 million.
Larry’s love for Ohio State began in the classroom, not in the football stadium. He was resigned to becoming a full-time farmer but decided, “I think there’s something more for me out there.” He was the first in his family to get a college education when he graduated from Ohio State with a degree in agriculture in 1967 and he received his master’s degree in 1973.
Now 21 members of his family have earned OSU degrees and he currently has five grandchildren at OSU.
His “Buckeyeman” character was born in 1998 when Larry and his son (OSU ’95) scored tickets to the Ohio State-Michigan game behind the Michigan bench. “I put on the jersey, wig and necklaces, and that was it,” he said.
The character took off in 2000 when he placed third in a HALLS cough drops national scream-off to find the loudest college football fan. There has been no slowing down for this super fan. Though retired and a grandfather, he says he will end up making 105 Buckeyeman appearances this year, with a full schedule ahead for Michigan Week.
The accolades keep coming as well. In August of 2014 he was featured on the cover of USA Weekend then cheered the Buckeyes all the way to the national championship. He won the 2015 national “What a Fan” award and just learned he will be presented with the OSU agriculture department’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award in March of next year.
His red-painted face is familiar in Columbus and around the country thanks to the many times he has been spotlighted in the stands during nationally televised Buckeye games. He’s always happy to take pictures with fans, and unlike some costumed super fans, he never charges a fee. He immediately posts pictures taken at his appearances to his photo-filled Facebook page.
He’s devoted to THE University and says, “I never would have had these opportunities without Ohio State.”
Not every fan is happy to see the Buckeyeman. A security guard stepped in right before he was about to be mugged by drunken Wisconsin fans in a Madison parking garage after the Badgers upset win in 2003. Ugly confrontations at Penn State and Michigan made him reconsider appearing at certain road games.
Larry taught agriculture business and science and served as FAA advisor for 22 years at Northwestern High School in Springfield. He lives in Urbana, where he served on the city council. He has visited county fairs across Ohio (including the Great Darke County Fair) and the country to serve as a poultry judge and can expertly guess a bird’s weight by holding it in the palm of his hand.
He has about 100 buckeye trees on his property, where he gets about 40 percent of the buckeyes he dries, drills and strings to make thousands of necklaces. The rest of the buckeyes come from fans he’s gotten to know. Under a favorite buckeye tree is the grave site he has already chosen.
Asked if he would consider being laid to rest dressed as the Buckeyeman he said, “I would be OK with it. “I’m not morbid about it. I already have my gravestone ready, and it has the Ohio State block ‘O’ on it.”