Margaret Smith and Tim Booth

Spirit of America collects 1,350 units of blood!

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There was no better news that came out of the 10th anniversary of the Spirit of America blood drive at Michigan International Speedway than the final tally of units donated during the 12-hour event.

In all, 1,350 units of blood were donated by generous patrons throughout the day, making it the most successful blood drive thus far, topping last year’s mark of 1,330 units. The 1,350 units collected has the potential to save 4,050 lives (each unit can be transfused to up to three people).

In 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, the Spirit of America has collected 8,896 units of blood with the possibility of saving 26,688 lives.

“I am in awe of the generosity of people that chose to give blood on this special day,” Spirit of America founder and MIS Director of Guest Services Tim Booth said. “It was a wonderful day and I personally want to thank each and every person who either gave blood or just simply came out and visited MIS to pay tribute to the victims and heroes of 9/11. It’s the heartfelt generosity of people that has made the Spirit of America what it is today. It was a special day on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.”

Countless 9/11 stories were told by blood donors on Sunday, but none more touching than by the founder himself.

Booth donated his 20th gallon of blood at the Spirit of America on Sunday, which dates back to the first time he donated as a student at local Jackson High School in 1978. It was a question by one of his classmates, Margaret Ruge, in biology class that day that started a string of 160 total blood donations Booth has given over the past 33 years.

Ruge asked Booth if he wanted to donate blood rather than attend biology class that day (Ruge was a senior and Booth a junior) and give blood for a good cause. Booth gladly accepted the invitation to get out of class and has given ever since.

After graduation, Ruge and Booth both went their separate ways only to be reconnected 33 years later at the 10th anniversary of the Spirit of America only because Booth never forgot the fellow student who encouraged him to give blood all those years ago.

“She encouraged me to give blood back in 1978 and I wanted to see if I could find her,” Booth said.

Booth was listening to a local radio station, WKHM, when he heard of a local police officer who was awarded the Jackson County Officer of the Year honor. The officer had the same last name, Ruge, as his former classmate. He made the call to the officer on a whim and indeed he was related to Margaret, she is his aunt.

“I asked the officer to reach out to Margaret and have her call me. A couple of days later she did,” Booth said.

Margaret, who now goes by her married name, Smith, found it strange that one of her classmates from all those years ago (and she didn’t remember who he was from school) would try to contact her for no apparent reason.

“I wasn’t sure why he was calling me,” Smith said. “But I’m glad I did call him back. He gives me credit for getting him to start giving blood, which in turn started this blood drive event, but I was just trying to get my fellow students involved in the giving process.”

Booth and Smith would eventually meet earlier this summer and he asked her to attend the Spirit of America event on 9/11 and give blood while he donated his 20th gallon that day. Now living in Tecumseh, Mich., and working as a nurse for the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, Smith understands the importance of giving blood and how much her own hospital uses it on an everyday basis.

“Giving blood is so important. We use it every day for different things at the hospital so I was more than happy to take Tim up on his offer and attend this wonderful event,” Smith said.

Booth asked her to attend the event at 11 a.m., but he wasn’t 100 percent sure she would show up.

“I wanted her to see how asking one person to give all those years ago turned into what this event is today,” he said. “It’s wasn’t about showing her the size or the scope of the Spirit of America, but it’s about how that one moment in 1978 changed lives and I wanted her to be a part of something that is special and say thank you.”

Low and behold, Smith did attend the Spirit of America and gave her unit of blood, as did Booth.

From one student asking another to give back in 1978, to the culmination of 1,350 units given in this year’s Spirit of America, giving blood has its stories to tell and Booth was determined to tell his to Smith 33 years later.

“I’m so glad she came and gave blood on this special day,” he said. “It meant a lot to me for her to be here and after not seeing her for 33 years, I appreciated the opportunity to tell her thanks.”

Sponsors of the ninth annual Spirit of America Blood Drive include: Allegra, Advance America, Americrown, Be The Match, Brooklyn-Irish Hills Chamber of Commerce, Chevy Trucks, C&L Sanitation, Coke, Culver’s, DDM Marketing & Communications, FOX 47, Gift of Life, Jackson Coffee Company, Jackson Community Ambulance, Kiwanis, Kohl’s, Michigan CAT, Prestige Promotional Products, Print Tech, Richard Petty Driving Experience and The Home Depot.

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