There are committed blood donors, and then there's Raymond Peters.
The 87-year-old Key West resident has donated 16 gallons of blood over the course of 128 visits to blood banks in six states.
It all began in 1947 when Peters and a friend visited a World War I veteran at a Veterans Administration hospital in Illinois, and ended up giving blood for the first time.
Since that occasion, Peters, who did his own stint in the Army in World War II, has open up his veins to blood banks in Ohio, West Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida.
"I've been giving blood for 64 years," said Peters, as he rolled up the sleeve of his right arm while sitting in One Blood's 2010 Bluebird Big Red Bus. "In fact, since my retirement, I've been giving blood every eight weeks, except for a 10-year period from 1988 to 1998 when I was unable to, because of a medical condition."
He made up for that stretch by serving as an emergency donor, providing the life-saving liquid to accident victims at all hours of the day or night.
"There was a bag between us, but the transfusion was going directly from my body into theirs," Peters said.
He would also organize neighborhood drives of 60 people or more.
"I think those days are gone forever, though," Peters said wistfully.
The amiable Peters hails from Marion, Ill. A man of the cloth, he moved to the Southernmost City in 1971 with his wife, Elinor, and three teenagers to become the pastor of the now-defunct Holy Trinity Church on Flagler Avenue. At the end of his 30-year career as a Lutheran priest, the honorary Conch recipient went to work for the Department of Children and Families for 22 years.
"I really like living in Key West," Peters said. "It's a good place to learn to know who you are. It's also a good place to know the fullness of God's blessings."
Besides giving up his blood as often as he's physically able, Peters has been known by his neighbors for the past three decades as the "the guy who cleans up 14th Street" on a regular basis. In addition, he rounds up and returns the many shopping carts that collect in the area, creating an eyesore.
He's also an enthusiastic horticulturist, known for his generosity in giving away the papayas and pineapples he grows in his yard. During one bumper crop, he said he handed out produce from his vegetable garden "from Key West to Key Largo."
Still, it's his regular gifts to the blood bank that give him the most satisfaction.
"I've always done it for free," Peters said. "Though I have picked up an awful lot of T-shirts and movie tickets along the way, which I give away."
Does he dread the regular needle punctures?
"Luckily, I got over that when I was in the Army," Peters said with a laugh.
Not surprisingly, Peters is seen as a godsend by the One Blood workers.
"Raymond has Type 0-negative blood, which makes him a universal donor," said One Blood Collection Area Director Nancy Brundage. "He's done a lot of good for a lot of people. He's very special to us, and a very sweet man."
Brundage said that the Big Red Buses in Key West and Islamorada work around the same slow season as most other Key West businesses -- in the summer. However, the blood collected in the Keys stays here, according to Brundage.
"We pull a sample tube at the same time as the donation for testing," Brundage said. "That's done up in Hialeah, where the blood is processed. But then, almost immediately it's distributed to the hospitals back down the Keys. It's important that people know this is all about locals helping locals. One day, when a blood donor is in the hospital needing a blood product, they'll be glad they gave when they did. We only have a 2¬½-day supply on hand at any one time. If something horrific happened, we'd be in trouble."
One day, not so long ago, One Blood put out a call for an emergency blood drive to help a little girl suffering from leukemia.
"We needed 53 units, but we ended up with 80," Brundage said. "We could have had much more that. We had 80 people show up to help."
The Big Red Buses collect about 15 to 20 pint-sized units of blood at each four- to six-hour drive they hold. The buses are on the road conducting at least one drive 340 days out of the year, yet supply still barely keeps up with demand.
The donation process takes about 45 minutes to perform.
Peters himself is no stranger to hospital visits, being a diabetic. However, he credits his longevity and generally good health to a sensible diet, cooked up for him by his loving wife.
"We've been married almost 62 years now," Peters said. "We have three children, five grandkids and eight great-grandchildren, including the first boy, who was born last week. We have a wonderful life, made even better by all the people who come out and thank me for cleaning the streets and moving the carts. It's one of the pleasures of my life."