published Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Senior a 40-year donor to Blood Assurance

Paul Speegle, 92, shows off his 40-year-old Blood Assurance card while inside of his Mountain Creek Apartment.
Paul Speegle, 92, shows off his 40-year-old Blood Assurance card while inside of his Mountain Creek Apartment.
Photo by Dan Henry.

PAUL SPEEGLE

Age: 92.

Hometown: Tracy City, Tenn.

Education: Lamar University, Bowling Green Business School.

Military service: Air Force, 1942-1946.

Career: Retired after 31 years at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee as vice president of claims division.

Family: Married 63 years to wife Martha, now deceased; two children, two grandchildren, three great-grandsons.

People would be surprised to know: He gets up at 5 a.m. each day to read the paper, work the crossword and Sudoku puzzles.

Thirty years before Blood Assurance was founded in 1972, Paul Speegle was already a blood donor. He began donating while serving in the Air Force during World War II.

"When I was in the service, occasionally they would call for volunteers to donate blood. The guys would give blood, then they'd have the day off," said Speegle, 92, a resident of Red Bank.

"After I got out of the service, since we didn't have Blood Assurance then, if your friends or church people or someone at the office needed blood, they'd put out the call and you could donate for them. It was one thing that I felt I could do that would help people," he said.

In 1972, three groups of concerned citizens -- Chattanooga Jaycees, Chattanooga Area Hospital Council and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society -- joined forces to launch Blood Assurance.

One of the first to answer the call for donors was Paul Speegle. He and Harry Geller are the organization's two 40-year donors.

"I started giving on my wife's birthday, June 6," said Speegle, who still has his original donor card.

Over four decades, Speegle has donated 184 pints, or 23 gallons of whole blood. Only one other donor has surpassed him with a donation of 55 gallons, according to Blood Assurance records.

"At first you couldn't give but five times in a 12-month period," said Speegle. 'Then it got to where you could give every eight weeks. I would give blood on exactly each eight-week-period."

He never missed a visit, even during the four years the (then) 88-year-old cared for his homebound wife while she had Alzheimer's disease.

Speegle, who still drives, juggled her doctor visits, household shopping and blood donations with working out at the YMCA to keep up his strength so he could continue to lift his wife in and out of chairs and bed.

"I played tennis until I was 88. I'd been going to the Y for about 12 years, but in 2008 (when his wife became ill), I went half days and began working out on weights because I thought that would help me more by keeping my strength up to take care of her. I had 10 weight machines, and I did 25 reps at a time. I had it down where I could do that in an hour and a half. I could leave my wife that long," he explained.

Even now, the 92-year-old continues to walk an hour on the treadmill each day, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon.

"I wish I was in as good shape as Mr. Speegle," said Donna Antolak, team leader at the North River office of Blood Assurance, which is where the senior adult donates. "He wrestled in college, he played tennis up until a few years ago, he's been physically fit most of his life. He is a wonderful, intelligent, articulate gentleman."

Speegle recently announced his decision to retire as a blood donor.

Lacey Wilson, Blood Assurance public relations coordinator, said the aging out of a generation of donors is being addressed by the organization.

"We have an aging donor base. When we have people who are placed on medications like blood thinners, or they've had surgery and received blood themselves, they're not able to donate. Now we're reaching out to a younger generation on Facebook and Twitter," she said.

Wilson said about 16 percent of Blood Assurance's annual donations come from high school students. A student must be 16 with parental consent to donate, or age 17 otherwise.

"A whole blood donation only takes about 30 minutes. We know younger donors want convenience and want to get in and out," she said.

Speegle shared his thoughts on being a blood donor.

Q: Why did you remain such a consistent donor for 40 years?

A: One of the things that made me want to donate was that I have an antigen in my blood that's good for babies and people with low immune systems. I like to think sometimes some of it goes to a little baby, then I think "Isn't that something that a 90-year-old person can give something that a child can use?"

Q: How have you recruited new donors?

A: When I ask somebody to give and they don't do it, then I say, "Well, if you needed blood, where do you think it's coming from?"

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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