Wednesday, March 18, 2015



 Jesse Cassell, Darke Co.’s oldest blood donor 
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GREENVILLE, Ohio - “What kind of button can you never unbutton?” Greenville’s Jesse Cassell is a warm-hearted and sharp-witted 93-year-old, and he was quick to deliver a corny punchline (“A belly button!”) when he arrived at the Women of the Moose blood drive, held Tuesday, March 10 at the Greenville Church of the Brethren. It’s his way of saying “hello.”

“That’s Jesse! He’s such a sweet man! He always has a new joke!” said Dana Puterbaugh, Community Blood Centers (CBC) account representative for Darke County. She was asked by Pastor Jim Morehouse from the East Main Street Church of Christ to nominate a “Hometown Hero” to be honored Sunday, March 15, a 14-year tradition at the Church of Christ. “He’s Darke County’s oldest active blood donor,” Dana said. “I thought he would be perfect.”

Pastor Morehouse agreed. “It’s something special,” he said as he donated at Tuesday’s blood drive. “Imagine that – 93 and still donating. That’s pretty neat. He encourages his friends to donate too, and if he’s still doing it at 93, that’s a pretty good encouragement.”

As Pastor Morehouse donated, Jesse settled into a neighboring donor bed that lined up the two men head-to-head. For Pastor Morehouse it was this 86th lifetime donation, for Jesse it was his 78th. “I feel better when I do it,” Jesse said. “I really enjoy when they call to tell me where it went. They said my last donation went to Richmond’s Reid Hospital to save a life, and that was very gratifying.”
Jesse’s history as a blood donor has been hard-earned, a commitment maintained through the blood, sweat and tears of a long life. “I started in 1940, right out of Milton-Union High School,” he said. “I was living on the farm with my father. I went to work at NCR, I would stay until spring, then come back to work on the farm.”

He began full-time work at NCR in 1956. Community Blood Center was founded in 1964 and began holding blood drives at NCR, where Jesse could donate. He was laid off in 1975 and said, “I put my application in to 39 places in 35 days.” He worked 13-hour days as a custodian at both West Milton and Northmont Schools, took a job at Fowler Enterprises for a couple of years, then ended up on the night shift at Hobart. He became a foreman and retired in 1987.

Jesse and his wife Mary Esther raised two daughters and a son. Mary Esther died in August of 1988. “We were two months shy of being married 64 years,” he said.

He has two grandchildren, and proudly shows the pictures of his great-grandchildren: three orphan siblings from Columbia adopted by his grandson and his wife.

Jesse remains young at heart and open to new love. “I got some family coming,” he said about Sunday’s Hometown Hero ceremony, “My sister and my niece… and my lady friend.”

There’s a twinkle in his eye when he speaks of Iris Bolden, his 84-year-old companion who he met two years ago during a lunch for seniors. “She said to me, ‘I’ve been watching you and I see the nice things you do. How about spending some time with me?’”

Their first date was an adventure. “She called me and said, ‘Jesse, I won tickets to the Eldora Speedway. Do you want to go?’ I said, ‘That’s not by bag – but I’ll go with you!’ The bus broke down and they had to send a wrecker, but we got there. A friend said to me, ‘I never thought I’d see you here,’ and I said, ‘Women will make you do most anything!’”

Both Jesse and Iris still drive their own cars. They alternate attending each other’s church on Sundays, play dominoes, and have dinner together three nights a week. “You know the saying, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?’” he said. “She’s a good cook!”

Jesse lives at the Brethren Retirement Community, where he stays active “riding a two-wheeler” along the bike paths. He takes no prescription drugs, and has his own secret to a long and healthy life.
“I have six cups, with three vitamins in each cup,” he said. “I drink an 8-ounce glass of water with each cup. I get my water each day and I’ve been doing it for years and years. I eat five stewed prunes before bed, and that takes care of the digestive system.”

After donating he ate a hearty meal in the Donor Café of hot soup and a ham sandwich, topped off by a chocolate chip cookie he playfully stuck in his mouth while he posed for a picture. He chatted with fellow donor Steve Shaltry, who had just made his 80th lifetime donation, the equivalent of 10 gallons.

“We’re the 10 gallon guys!” Jesse said. His goal is to reach 80 donations this year and he scheduled his 79th donation for May. But reaching 80 will only be a passing milestone.

Asked how long he plans to keep donating, Jesse didn’t hesitate. “Till they stretch me out in a casket,” he said. “And as long as Dana’s running the show!”

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