DAYTON, Ohio – The Dickensian world of David Copperfield or Tiny Tim could hardly be bleaker than the one Larry Smith knew as a child. Blind from birth, abandoned as an infant, he spent his youth in the unremitting darkness of an orphanage that drained his spirit and nearly broke his will.
But Larry not only survived, he thrived. He devoted himself to helping others by donating blood, and has now earned national recognition. On Tuesday, Dec. 8 Larry will be inducted into the 2015 Fresenius Kabi Donation Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Dayton Community Blood Center.
Larry will make his 296th lifetime blood donation at 10 a.m. with the induction ceremony to follow.
CBC’s nomination of Larry for the Hall of Fame included the account of how he braved a winter storm on the day after Christmas in 2012 so he could make his scheduled blood donation. It turned out to be a very important contribution to the blood supply. The storm forced CBC to cancel all mobile blood drives that day and close all Donor Centers, including the Dayton CBC moments after Larry donated.
Larry is among 12 Hall of Fame inductees who are honored in the Fresenius Kabi 2016 donor calendar. A photo of Larry bundling up to brave the weather after that 2012 donation appears with the month of December.
‘TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL’ – LARRY SMITH’S CHRISTMAS SNOW STORM DONATION
Larry Smith spent Christmas Day 2012 in a way that has become a tradition – having dinner with friends and enjoying the warmth of their home and hospitality. But as the weather reports warned of heavy snow marching into the Miami Valley, it seemed obvious 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. “I said if the transportation is running, and Community Blood Center is open, I’m going to make it.”
The future always looks a little different to Larry than it does to others. Despite his desperate beginnings, he managed to make his way in life. Making it a few miles in a snow storm to give blood just didn’t seem like a challenge.
The snow arrived as predicted on the morning of Dec. 26, 2012 but so did the Dayton RTA driver from Project Mobility. Larry arrived in time to make his 10 a.m. appointment. “I did platelets and plasma,” 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 lives and save lives – 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 of the Marion County Children’s Home. They say I was found by an eight-year-old girl when she went out to sweep the porch the next morning. I was raised in an orphanage, 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.”
Those dark years set the stage for the great light that came into his life at the Ohio State School for the Blind. Her name was Indus Disbennett, 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 Disbennett 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.
The snow was coming down hard when the Project Mobility bus arrived to take Larry home after that December 2012 donation. He had made good on his promise to brave the storm as long as CBC was open. He finished his cookies and juice and began the routine of collecting his coat, wool hat and foldable cane.
Staff members helped him bundle up with a CBC scarf. The words on the scarf “Blood Donor – Save Lives” were spread across his chest. It was a message others might read, but Larry would never see. It doesn’t bother Larry. They are words he already knows by heart.
HOSPITAL WORKER, MARATHON RUNNER, DONOR FOR LIFE
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 a dark room technician,” he said. “It was an X-ray film dark room job. It’s obsolete now, everything is digital. 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.”
Larry began donating in 1994 at the CBC mobile blood drives at Grandview. In 1996 he became a regular donor at the Dayton CBC. “I started coming down to the blood center on my own, I’d take the bus down and give whole blood,” he said. In 2004 he became a platelet and plasma donor. “One day someone asked me if I had ever considered giving blood products,” he said. “I got into that and have been doing it ever since.
“I understood very well that it helped save other people’s lives. And that was something I wanted to do in life, to do good to others. Jesus gave his blood to save others. I enjoy saving lives.”
He enjoys saving lives, and living life to the fullest. Guided by good friends, he became a tournament bowler, marathon runner, and church choir singer.
“I used to love bowling,” he said. “Dayton actually had a blind blood bowling league. We had rails set up on the alleys. You followed along the rail and started your swing. The rail ended at the foul line and you let the ball go. We used to go to tournaments in other cities. It was a lot of fun.”
“Of course there was my running. I still run on the treadmill. I got started at the YMCA. They had a track and it was 28 laps to a mile. Bob Anderson was a runner and he talked to me about building up my stamina. He said if you don’t show up I’ll come and get you!
“I used to run on the bikeway. I would do an eight-mile loop with Harry Bradbury, he was the Y’s physical director. Harry is my power of attorney. He writes checks to pay my bills and takes me doctor’s appointments. We would run races. I did three marathons – two in Columbus in 1982 and 1983 – and ran Boston in 1996. That was the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. It was a great marathon. I had cramps and everything, but I finished it. It took over five hours, but I was glad to finish.”
Larry has been singing bass in the choir at Mount Zion Church in Beavercreek for more than a decade. “A fellow named Bob Dix invited me to go to church, and introduced me to the choir director,” Larry said. He discovered he loved to sing. “You’re working for the Lord,” he said. “Darn right I enjoy it!”
Larry 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.”
“I really appreciate it,” he said of the Donation Hall of Fame recognition. “It’s something I never expected. I just go and give blood and move on my way.”