Brookville donor Kenneth Easter is a former preacher who survived a “hoodlum” youth on the mean streets of Detroit, a tour of duty in Vietnam, and a battle with cancer that nearly claimed his voice. Every memory brought back a smile as he celebrated his milestone 100th lifetime blood donation Tuesday, June 7 at Community Blood Center.
Kenneth has been donating whole blood at the Dayton CBC for more than 20 years. “The first time I donated was about 1978, down at church,” he said about the journey to his milestone. “I was going to school for preaching in West Monroe, Louisiana.”
Kenneth was born in Detroit, Michigan and wasn’t exactly the ideal candidate for divinity school when he first moved to Dayton at age 15. “My wife called me her little ‘hoodlum,’” he said with a smile. “I didn’t want to move, all my friends were in Detroit. But it was the providence of God that I got out of there. I was in a gang. We always had fights, and I was in grade school when I almost killed a kid with a knife.”
He remembers getting beat up by a rival at school then challenging him to fight again as a matter of pride. He damaged the boy’s eye, and started carrying a homemade switchblade to protect against retaliation. “He wanted to fight again, and I told him I had a knife in my pocket and would use it,” he said. “He backed away.”
Certain dates are cemented in Ken’s memory. He said he joined the U.S. Air Force on Sept. 4, 1964 and became a Christian on Aug. 24, 1976. “I got out (of the Air Force) to go to the school of preaching,” he said. “The only one who didn’t think I was nuts was the chaplain. Because I didn’t finish my last year of enlistment and I had to ask him for help to get a discharge.”
He said his time in school was “two of the best years of my life.” He preached for five years at two different congregations before returning to Dayton where he served in the Air Force Reserves for eight years (21 total years of service), and worked 26 years in manufacturing.
He met his wife Judy in 1987 and in July will celebrate 29 years of marriage. They have three sons, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Ken remained a regular blood donor until he was sidelined by a sudden one-two punch of health problems. “I had cancer of the vocal cords,” he said. “My oncologist believes it was because of my stint in Vietnam, probably Agent Orange. I thought I’d rather have surgery than radiation, but my doctor said, ‘We can do the surgery, but you’ll talk in a whisper the rest of your life.’ So I said I’d do the radiation!”
Ken was able to keep his voice. But a leak hearty valve suddenly needed attention. “My doctor said it’s time to repair that micro-valve,” he said, “and that was right after a two-year deferral for cancer.”
Ken returned to donating in 2013, and his comeback was complete when he made seven whole blood donations in 2015. Now he celebrates his 100th donation milestone as a true “Donor for Life.”