April 28, 2021

CENTERVILLE, Ohio - Rookie Centerville cop Austin Warden made his first blood donation April 27 at the Officer John Kalaman Memorial Blood Drive, then bypassed the juice and snacks to introduce himself to John's father.

"Mr. Kalaman, I just wanted to say hello," Austin said. "I've been here at Centerville for 15 months and graduated the academy."

The young officer was soon chatting with both John and Paula Kalaman. After 24 annual blood drives now with Community Blood Center honoring their son's death in the line of duty, this is how the legacy grows.

In 1998 Kalaman and Washington Township Firefighter Robert O'Toole were struck and killed by a motorist on I-675 while responding to an accident. The family began the blood drive that spring and the tradition of holding it on his April 27 birthday endures.

The only departure from tradition came last year, at the height of the pandemic, when the blood drive was temporarily moved to Centerville High School. Strict COVID-19 protocols prevented social gathering, and for the first time, the Kalamans could not attend.

"We couldn't be there because of the COVID and we just watched the clock all day long, just imagining people coming in and going out," said Paula. "When we found out we could be here this year it was like we were walking on air, we are so excited."

The blood drive returned to the Centerville Police Department and topped 107% of the collection goal with 87 donors and 72 donations. More than 4,408 units of blood have now been donated in Kalaman's name.

Tuesday's blood drive began with the Kalamans receiving the CBC Blood Drop Award, a presentation postponed from last year. "I feel honored," said Paula, "but all of the praise goes to him, for what he sacrificed and what we're doing in his name. So, we'll take a little bit of the credit, but the rest of it goes to him, so bittersweet."

Centerville donor Jake Stone has not missed a Kalaman blood drive since he started donating in high school in 2012. "I felt good going last year, I was excited it was happening, with everything going on, to get it done," said Jake. "It does feel nice having it back here."

Rooted in the tradition of the blood drive is the support from law enforcement and public safety officers from around the area.

Centerville Police Lt. Michael Yoder was one of the first to donate. Miami Township Police Detective Dan Wessling wore a blue stars and stipes tie. Montgomery Co. Sheriff's Captain Greg Stephens talked about the retired patrol car parked outside the blood drive with the names of the slain peace officers inscribed on the hood, including Officer John Kalaman.

Miamisburg Police Officer Cynthia Threlkeld shrugged off the discomfort of donating while wearing an armored vest, utility belt and sidearm. "I was a kid when John was killed," she said. "My brother Scott (Kettering Police detective Scott Drerup) used to work for Centerville and worked with John."

"We are still making a difference in the lives of other people because of what we've been through," said Paula. "So, he's not done serving the community, he's still doing it one way or the other."

The Kalamans were on their feet for most of the day, along with volunteer Brian Nolan, chairman of the annual John Kalaman Golf Tournament, which returns Sept. 14.

"We didn't have it last year," said Brian, "but we raised $8,300 and covered all of our scholarships."

After serving and thanking the final donors the Kalamans gathered the photos and memorabilia on display and headed home.

"For us, this is our family," said Paula. "We get the donors who come every year and we get the new ones and we very quickly embrace them. They're members of our family too. And we can't wait every year to see everybody here."