Centerville Police Officer Nadia Dexter donates at John P. Kalaman Memorial Blood Drive

The 15th annual John P. Kalaman Memorial Blood Drive again paid tribute to the fallen Centerville police officer who would have turned 44 today, April 27. But it was also the birthday celebration of a childhood friend who did turn 44 today, of a blood donor who never knew John who turned 54 and another who turned 33, and of the untold number of people saved by around 3,700 units of blood donated in John’s name.

It’s a tradition for Dave DeLon to spend part of his birthday at the Kalaman drive. John and Dave were born on the same day, lived two doors apart, played baseball together and graduated Fairmont High School together. As kids they once shared the items in a “Starsky and Hutch” dress-up kit. John got the badge and handcuffs, Dave got the notebook. They laughed at this early sign that John would grow up to be a cop.

“John was always such a people person,” recalled Dave. “I can’t say at what moment he knew he wanted to become a police officer, but he knew he would work with people and try to be a public force. We both have pursued the same objective. I went into teaching. We both wanted to make other people’s lives better.”

Stephen Walker, John’s former chief act CPD, is now retired, but made sure he returned from recent travels in time to keep the tradition of donating at the blood drive. He remembers getting the call about an accident on that icy morning in January, 1997 “like it was 30 seconds ago, to this day.” He had worried about his high school age daughter being on the road that morning, but the call was about John. Officer Kalaman was helping at accident victim on i-675 when an approaching vehicle lost control and struck the emergency responders, killing John and Washington Township fire fighter Robert O’Toole.

Since then Chief Walker has seen the blood drive grow by thousands of donated units, a golf outing in John’s name raise thousands of dollars for scholarship, and the Ohio law requiring traffic to change lanes away from roadside emergencies spread to other states. “From an unimaginable tragedy, it’s been a blessing that so many positive things have happened, like this,” said the chief as he gestured at the occupied donor beds around him.

“The support has been overwhelming over the past 15 years,” John’s father John Kalaman said, talking into a local TV camera, giving an interview yet again about his son’s legacy. John’s mother Paula looked across the Centerville Police Department training room filled with donor beds as the blood drive wound down and said, “So many people who came here to donate said to me, ‘I’m doing this for my son,’ or ‘I’m doing this for my mother. I wanted to do something, and I didn’t know what to do, so I came to give blood.’ It goes full circle.”

One of those donors was Helena Gerrard from Washington Township whose son was shot and killed in his home by intruders. Tomorrow, April 28, on the sixth anniversary of his death she will give an interview to a Columbus TV station about the unsolved killing.

Paula gives Helena a tearful hug before she leaves. It’s a good example of what Dave DeLon calls the “greater family” of Kalamans that has evolved over the 15 years of the drive. Helena’s pain becomes the Kalamans’ shared pain. Blood donor Jim Purtee’s 54th birthday today is a shared celebration. First time donor and rookie Oakwood public safety officer Jeremy Smith’s 3rd birthday was reason for Paula to lead the room in singing “Happy Birthday to You!”

“It renews your faith in the basic goodness of people,” says Paula. “I wish everybody who can donate would get up the nerve to do so.” “I do it regardless, “says Centerville Police Officer Nadia Dexter. “It’s a good thing to do, to save someone’s life. You’d want someone to do it for you.” Like the street outside the police department named in John’s honor, this is the “Kalaman Way.”

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