NEW WESTON — Carolyn Kremer stood in the middle of the Eldora Speedway Ballroom dance floor, nearly empty on a summer afternoon except for the circle of donor beds assembled for the annual Community Blood Center blood drive.
She spread her arms, remembering what it was like to be a high school girl on a winter night in 1956 and said, “This is where we danced. This is where we danced our legs off!”
Outside the ballroom, the sunbaked dirt track of the Eldora Speedway quietly awaited the noise, fireworks and fury of Friday nights. But that’s not what drew high school girls like Carolyn to Eldora. They came for the Wednesday and Sunday night dances, and the chance to meet boys.
It was where Carolyn Dues met a special boy named Carl Kremer. They married, worked a dairy farm in North Star and raised four children. Both their sons are hemophiliacs. Over the years she came to know the ballroom as a place for blood drives, where neighbors would donate to help save her boys.
At age 78, Carolyn is still a blood donor. She couldn’t donate at the June 2016 blood drive at Eldora, but keeps trying and has since raised her lifetime donation history to 118. Echoes of her life as a wife, mother and donor always seem to call to her from Eldora.
Dancing at Eldora
“It was a good time,” she said of the Eldora Ballroom dances. “The girls – we did the jitterbug, you know. We called it ‘fast dancing.’ The floor would be covered, the booths full all the way around. A lot of the guys would stand there and ask each other, ‘What about her? Where is she sitting?’
“You came with a group of girls. Maybe a guy would ask you to dance, maybe a slow dance. When it came quitting time, 12 or so, they would ask you for the last dance, and ‘Could I take you home?’”
Carl and Carolyn’s courtship began as a very slow dance. “I hadn’t danced with him all night,” she said. “I didn’t know who he was. I noticed he was staring when I went to the rest room. I thought he was good looking! It was all people we knew. He asked ‘Could I take you home?’ When you got to the door it was ‘thank you and good night’ and I ran to the door!
“The next week it was the dance in Versailles. I went with a group of girls and that night I drove. He asked if he could take me home and I said, ’No, I drove.’ The next Sunday he asked me again.”
“Why sure!” was her quick reply. His car was waiting outside, a heavy snow falling. The ride home was an adventure. “Windshield wipers weren’t so good at the time!” she said. They had to stop often to get out, clear the snow from the windshield and find their way. It was the beginning of a lifetime journey together.
A diamond promise
Carl went into the Army in 1957 for a two-year commitment. He asked Carolyn if she would wait for him and she said, “Oh yes!”
“When he was going to leave, his buddies were leaving at the same time,” she said. “I really liked him and he liked me. He said ‘I want to give you a diamond before I leave! I’ll be gone a long time.’ It sounded great! But I didn’t know what my mom would say about that! She said you’ve got two years to see if it works out or not. I wrote him every day.
“One time his mom and dad took me to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for his training. Or he would hitchhike home when he had a three-day pass.
“When he went overseas I didn’t see him at all. At roll call they would say ‘You got a letter from Carolyn.’ He had a big duffle back and half of it was all my letters.
“He came back in December and the next November we were married.” Carl’s birthday was Christmas Day and they were married on Thanksgiving Day.
Hemophilia in the family
“We had four children,” said Carolyn. “The two boys, Dan and Kevin, were both hemophiliacs.
“We would go to the blood bank. No one in this area had hemophilia. They didn’t know what you were talking about then. Dan’s lips would bleed and bleed. The doctor would put a stitch in with vitamin K. They would be black and blue.
“Kevin, once we had to bring him in to St. Rita’s in Lima. We always said he was reborn. He didn’t move, when he got a shot he didn’t mind, he didn’t cry. There was just no blood left in him. It would go from nothing, and then his finger would move a little, like being reborn. All of a sudden he would open his eyes. It was like he was being born.
“Their crib had foam padding all around the top. The rocking chair had foam over the edges, to protect from even a bump. I have a picture of Dan with socks on his hands looking like a boxer. There were many days they would start to crawl and slip and fall over.
“They were receiving transfusions by then. I probably made hundreds of trips. We were farmers; Carl had milking to do morning and nights. There was many a night trip to Children’s Hospital. It was usually me and my son, many trips in bad weather. ‘The pain,’ he would say ‘Oh mom can you go faster.’
“One time Kevin fell on his bicycle. His head was bleeding so bad. Halfway to Dayton we had to stop and rewrap the bandages, the blood was running down his head.”
The boys benefitted greatly from advances in blood science, including the 1965 discovery of cryoprecipitate and its improved clotting power.
“Carl said you could give them their shots. I think you can do it.’ I said ‘OK I’ll try.’ After that it was much easier. I would go to the blood bank and get so much of it and keep it in the refrigerator.”
Carl and Carolyn had two daughters, Debra and Tami, followed by Dan and Kevin. There are 16 grandchildren. Dan has six children and Tammy seven. Debbie has three children and her sons, Dean and Paul, are both hemophiliacs.
“For my grandsons, it’s so different,” said Carolyn. “They get three shots a week. They have almost a normal life.”
Neighbor donors and golden years
“The blood bank was just wonderful,” said Carolyn. “A lot of people would say, ‘What is hemophilia?’ The blood bank would come and have a blood drive at our church (St. Louis in North Star). People would say, ‘I never gave blood before until I gave for your boys.’”
After retirement Carl helped Dan with the “EAT Food for Life” organic farm he founded on land that belonged to Carolyn’s grandfather.
Carl died in March 2010 at the age of 73 after battling cancer. They celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2009. “That’s what kept him alive,” said Carolyn. “We didn’t have a lunch or a dance, but we did have our family and friends, and the wedding party.
“When we moved from the farm I said the letters have got to go. I wish I had held on to them.”
Like the empty dance floor at Eldora, many memories are now whispers. But Carolyn and Carl’s bond of love still pulses like a beating heart.
“After the second boy, and all the problems, I just said, ‘Honey, we can’t have any more children,” she said, anguished to know the gene for hemophilia is passed from mother to son. “I feel responsible. I was the cause. Carl said, ‘If I had to do it all over again, it would be nobody but Carolyn. You made my life.’”
Learn more at www.GivingBlood.org.