Joel Stumph crafts canes and walking sticks in his basement workshop, cutting, sanding and polishing branches and pieces of driftwood his family and friends bring him.
A man who has had both knees replaced, Stumph walks with a cane and keeps a handful of extras in the trunk of his car. They don’t last long.
“If he sees someone walking across the parking lot he thinks could use one, he stops them and says, ‘You may need this more than I do!’ and gives them the one he’s using,” his domestic partner, Connie Scusselle, said.
Stumph, 87, has been giving to his community since moving to Tacoma in 1947. Over those 66 years, he’s lived in two homes, a block apart.
He raised a family and worked nearly 44 years for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, the first 25 as a lineman.
Today, linemen work atop cherry pickers, lifted from the back of a truck. In Stumph’s day, they wore hooks on their boots, threw a belt around the pole and climbed.
Back in 1954, a co-worker’s wife needed blood, and he asked if Stumph would consider donating his.
“I went right down to the blood bank. After the second time I gave blood, I thought, ‘Why not keep going?’” Stumph said. “The Lord kept me healthy enough to keep giving, so I’ve kept giving.”
For a grand total of 333 times, so far.
Dan Schmitt, the director of donor resources for Cascade Regional Blood Services, said no one has ever given more to the center.
“He’s given just over 41 gallons of whole blood,” Schmitt said. “You can only give blood every 56 days by law, and then about a pint each time.
“If Joel had given every time he was allowed – each 56 days – it would have taken him 551/2 years to donate 41-plus gallons.”
Stumph heard that and smiled.
“Well, I did miss a few times,” he allowed. “Usually for surgery. I’ve had both knees and both shoulders replaced ”
Other than that, his blood has kept flowing to Cascade.
“The thing is, one pint can help so many people. A teaspoon might help save a baby’s life,” Stumph said. “A friend told me he didn’t give blood because he was afraid of needles. I told him, ‘If your child needed something, you’d give your life for them. You’re going to tell me you might let a child die because you’re afraid of needles?’”
Stumph has heard the numbers over the years.
In the United States, where more than 112 million are eligible blood donors, fewer than five percent donate. Blood centers across the country acknowledge they rarely have more than a three-day supply of blood on hand.
Putting Stumph’s donations in perspective, Schmitt said, the center can’t find anyone else in their records who has given more than 31 gallons. The American Red Cross said it has had Northwest donors give as many as 55 gallons.
Stumph is an unassuming fellow about such things – a long, lean man who is always volunteering for this or that. After his wife died, he volunteered at the home where she’d spent her final months after a massive stroke.
There, he met Scusselle, a supervisor. Time passed.
“One day I finally asked her out for coffee, and I thought, ‘Well, why not dinner?’ We went out for dinner and we’ve been together ever since,” Stumph said.
“We’ve been together 12 years. We didn’t want to get married, but we wanted to be able to care for one another if something happened, so we legally became domestic partners – we carry cards and have a certificate,” Scusselle said.
A few years ago, the two lost a cat. Stumph found a successor, an orange feline they call Sunny. It was supposed to be Scusselle’s cat, but Sunny and Stumph have developed an early-afternoon ritual.
“Usually after lunch time, he wants his nap,” Stumph said. “If I’m not sitting in my chair, he starts to yowl. If I am in the chair, he wants a blanket over my legs, and he curls up and falls asleep.”
Stumph doesn’t mind giving up his lap for an hour or so. Then, he might travel down to the workshop to work on a walking stick or a birdhouse. He’ll give them away, too.
And every few months, it’s back to the blood center.
“I’m three pints shy of 42 gallons,” he said. “If that inspires anyone to donate blood, I’d be happy. It doesn’t hurt and when you’re done, you feel better because you know you’ve helped somebody.”
How to help
Schedule a blood donor appointment or find out more about Cascade Regional Blood Services by calling 1-877-24-BLOOD or go online to www.crbs.net