VERSAILLES — A year ago, both the Versailles Poultry Days Festival and the annual blood drive had to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.
By comparison, the sudden power outage on Sept. 20 at the Knights of Columbus Hall was a minor set-back for the Poultry Days Committee and Steve Knapke Memorial Blood Drive.
In 2020, COVID delayed and cancelled most of Poultry Days, with the parade replaced by a traffic jam for drive-thru chicken pick-up. The festival bounced back strong in the summer of 2021 with a record 35,500 dinners sold.
The Knapke family and committee volunteers couldn’t welcome donors or serve special refreshments in 2020, so this year’s blood drive became a homecoming.
Early in the blood drive, an accident on State Route 47 knocked out power. Automated machines drawing platelets and plasma whirred to a halt, resulting in the loss of four in-progress donations. Whole blood donations carried on in dim lighting with the temporary help of a small generator until power was fully restored.
Collections slipped to 83% of the goal, yet the blood drive totaled 147 donors, 108 whole blood donations and 13 platelet and plasma donations.
“This year in particular, we’re thankful,” Steve’s daughter Rachel Durham said. “People are very supportive, all through COVID last year and this year. People still come out.”
Steve Knapke was inspired to become a blood donor after surviving a 1988 auto accident. He began giving platelets and had 81 lifetime donations. In 2016, another accident, also caused by an impaired driver, claimed his life and seriously injured his wife Lois.
The Knapke family began co-sponsoring the Versailles Poultry Days Committee blood drive in 2017. The mission became more urgent in the past year when Steve’s daughter Emmy D’Antonio was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.
“I had 19 units transfused this year, so I now have a whole new mission,” said D’Antonio, whose leukemia is now in remission. “I organized my own blood drive. It wasn’t as big as this, but I brought in 21 new donors, so they were pleased!”
The loss of platelet donations due to the power outage concerned the family because they knew D’Antonio received platelets.
“They were so specific for Emmy and important to us,” Durham said. “We knew they were losing platelets. That was our biggest fear.”
Versailles’ Jeremy Litten spoke with Lois as he donated. He told her drinking and driving had led to his own accident on a motorcycle. He was seriously injured and was lucky that a neighbor spotted him the next morning lying in a ditch.
“She told me don’t do that no more,” Litten said.
Steve’s son Doug donates every year at the blood drive and the family’s goal is to keep encouraging donations.
“What he did, that was his legacy,” said Lois. “That’s what you want to have in your life, the things people will remember you by.”
“It’s a great partnership,” said Poultry Days Committee co-chair and blood drive volunteer Justin Feltz.
With a record year at the 2021 festival, the committee can continue to fund Versailles Heritage Park and support 20 non-profit organizations.
“It helps our community, our town, our people,” said Feltz. “Makes it a better place.”