Oregon’s 41-Gallon Blood Donation Hero
Patricia Griffiths/Red Cross Cascades Region
On May 18, 2022, 80-year-old Ken Marque of Woodburn, Oregon finished a marathon without running or walking.
On that day he gave a unit, or pint, of blood that set his donations record at 41-gallons, a feat he accomplished by giving one pint every eight weeks for 60 years, demonstrating the heart and determination of a marathon champion.
“I’ve had 328 donations now!” said Marque, “Times three, I’ve helped over one thousand lives!”
That is because each pint of whole blood can be processed and packaged to help up to three people. Helping people who need transfusions is personal for Marque.
“My wife passed away 12 years ago from brain cancer,” he said. “She needed five transfusions. Someone gave her blood, and I can help someone else.” Although he is deeply grateful for the life-saving blood his wife received, his choice to become a donor started long before her need.
Marque’s mother started donating blood regularly to the Red Cross in 1955, and she set him on the path early on.
“I started on my 18th birthday, July 14, 1959,” he recalled. “My mom said you’re 18 today and you’re going to give blood!” That hallmark time is embossed in his memory. “Then, you had to lay on a cot for half an hour. They put a piece of paper on your chest to tell you when you can go. The gentleman next to me had just got his 15-gallon pin and he told me, ‘One day you can too.’”
Marque pulled that moment back to the present: “Sixty years later, I have more than 40 gallons – I passed you, fellow!”
The next year, 1960, Marque joined the military and continued to donate blood as he could. A special perq from Uncle Sam sweetened the deal for him. At that time, if service people donated blood, they received that day off work. So, he would donate at 8 or 9am, and have a mini-vacation.
A few years ago, he hit the 32-gallon mark. His record triggered a race between him and another donor. A local newspaper had run a full-page spread on him in the Thanksgiving edition to commemorate his record. That article was noted around his community, and by one other donor whom he met at a Red Cross dinner event to honor high-achieving blood donors.
“He said he was trying to catch my record!” Marque exclaimed. He explained that the other donor gave plasma, which enabled him to give more weekly, since plasma is replenished much faster than whole blood. The competitive spirit caught both men.
“He could give eight to my one, since he could give more often. So, he caught up to me real quick!” he said. “They oughtta have a separate category for plasma and blood. Marathon vs 100-yard dash – not equal!”
Marque wrapped up their contest by explaining that his competitor quickly caught up to him, then switched to making whole blood donations every eight weeks as well. But, the spirit of the competition was good-natured. “You beating me is fine,” Marque recalled he said, “because you give blood, and it helps someone.”
Marque’s primary motivation is simple. “I just feel better after I give,” he said, “it’s helping someone else. That’s my motivation.”
Marque’s determination to compete in “marathon races” is evident in other areas. As a ten-year-old, he researched Lou Gehrig for a school assignment, and was inspired to go 2130 days without missing school. After he did, he was determined to extend that pledge to 2130 weeks, which amounted to nearly four school years. He did that as well. That attendance record continued. He only missed one day of school, and that was in second grade when he’d sprained his ankle and his mother didn’t want him to walk on the frosty ground.
“A couple times when I went for job interviews I was asked how many times I missed work (by interviewers who looked about 30),” he said. “So, I said your dad wasn’t alive the last time I missed a day of work or school!” During his work career, he beat his school record by one day, having never missed a single day of work.
Now that he has retired, Marque has applied the marathon mindset to his avocation, bowling. Tellingly, he has kept track of the number of games he has bowled, more than 25,000! The proof of this practice was evident in 1970, when he earned the title of Oregon Open Division Singles Champion. He still savors that honor.
“I was going against the big, big bowlers and got lucky enough to win,” he said. “That’s my crowning achievement.”
With decades of proof of achievement for long efforts,
Marque wants to inspire other people to do the same. But, the value of donating blood goes beyond personal achievement.
“Give! Someday you may need blood. If nobody gives, you won’t have blood and it could cost you your life. You can do the payback by helping someone so you can say I gave to help someone else and they can help you.”
The 80-year-old has no intention of stopping. “I continue to give and will continue as long as I can physically do it.”
In the United States, 29,000 units of blood are needed each day to treat medical patients for injury and illness. If you would like to join blood donors like Ken Marque in meeting this need, you can schedule to donate the at: https://www.redcrossblood.org
Download the Rapid Pass app to preregister and sign up for a donation time and place.