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Gift-of-Life Marathon honors Mary Ojala, long-time volunteer

Donors asked to give blood to celebrate Ojala’s 100th birthday, ensure holiday supplies

What do you get for someone who is turning 100? Longtime American Red Cross volunteer Mary Ojala says donating a pint of blood in her name would be the perfect gift!

Organizers of Rutland’s Gift-of-Life Marathon blood drive today announced the 2020 version of the record-setting drive will be a birthday celebration for Ojala, who asked for just one thing for her birthday: Blood donations!

“I cannot think of a better gift than the gift of life,” said Ojala, who will turn 100 on Nov. 22.  “I’ve enjoyed an amazing life blessed by love, faith, family, and community.

“Giving back through volunteering has been one of my greatest pleasures, and supporting blood donors and drives has been a wonderful way to share my blessings,” Ojala said.  “I encourage my family, friends, and everyone I know to sign up to donate blood, and make this the most meaningful birthday party in my century of life.”

Ojala has been a Red Cross supporter for decades and is considered the Red Cross’ longest-serving volunteer in New England.  She has eight children, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.  She retired a few years back, but still golfs regularly, and annually appears at the GOLM and summer Mini GOLM to offer support and inspiration.

“Mary is one of the most giving people I’ve ever met, so honoring her in this way, and asking others to give in her name, is really fitting,” said Green Mountain Power’s Steve Costello, one of the GOLM organizers.

GMP and Catamount Radio have been presenting the GOLM for nearly two decades, and Ojala has been part of it each year.  Whether leading the volunteer crew at the drive in the early years, or stopping by to encourage donors in recent years, Ojala helped build the GOLM into a phenomenon.

“In many ways, Mary is symbolic of the Gift-of-Life Marathon,” said Terry Jaye, program manager at Catamount Radio. “She has been a constant presence at the drive over the years, always exceeds expectations, and always goes above and beyond for the Red Cross.”

Appointments are now available for the GOLM, sponsored by Catamount Radio and Green Mountain Power, with support from Casella Waste Systems and Farrell Distributing, which will span four days in December:

Dec. 8, from 11 to 5 p.m. at the Fair Haven American Legion;

Dec. 16 from noon to 5 p.m. at the Rutland American Legion;

Dec. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rutland American Legion;

Dec. 18 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rutland Recreation Community Center, at the former College of St. Joseph.

Appointments are strongly encouraged and may be made by visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 800-RED-CROSS.  Due to Covid-19, the American Red Cross is taking special precautions to protect donors and staff, practice social distancing, and ensure a safe blood supply.

Stefanie Schaffer, who has inspired thousands during her recovery from injuries suffered in a boat explosion, members of the Giancola family, and Mark Alderman will also serve as ambassadors for the GOLM.  “Blood donors saved my life and helped give me a much greater appreciation for life, family, and this community,” Schaffer said.  “When you give blood, you not only affect the recipient, but everyone they love, and who loves them.”

The Gift-of-Life Marathon began as an ordinary blood drive, but over time grew into the largest blood drive in American history, setting the national record by collecting 2,350 pints in one day in 2013.  The record still stands.

Birthday cards for Mary Ojala may be sent to her c/o Carl Ojala, 376 Orchard Hill, Pittsford, VT, 05763.

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