Every blood donor’s journey to the milestone of 100 lifetime donations is a personal history. The path for Huber Heights donor George Kawanishi is especially fascinating because it follows 8,000 miles across the American frontier, and one small story of how newcomers to this country helped build an empire.
George made his 100th donation with Community Blood Center (CBC) Friday, Dec. 5 at the downtown Dayton Donor Center. He is a retired engineer, small in stature, who grew up in the giant state of Montana. He is the son of a Japanese immigrant, served in the U.S. Army, and spent 30 years as a civilian engineer with the U.S. Air Force. He came to Dayton in 1969 to work at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and retired after five years with Northrop Grumman.
To honor his milestone, CBC presented George with a black jacket embroidered with “Donor for Life – 100 LTD.” But it will not be the only emblem he wears with pride. At his waist is a well-worn silver belt buckle. In the center is the white silhouette of a mountain goat against a black background, ringed in red with the words “Great Northern Railway.”
“I worked on the railroad when I graduated from high school in 1954, and then every summer during college to finish my education,” George said. “It helped me pay for college at Montana State.”
For George, the railway was in fact a bloodline for his family’s new life in America. “My father emigrated from Japan in 1916,” he said. “He went to work for the railroad in Washington, Idaho and Montana, and settled in Montana with a good job with the railway.”
The Great Northern Railway was founded in 1889 by James J. Hill, created from several existing railroads in Minnesota. Hill became known as “The Empire Builder” for his role in the development of the resources in the region the railway served and his philosophy that the railway could not prosper unless its territory prospered.
To become a transcontinental railway the Great Northern had to pass through the Rocky Mountains at 5,215 feet in Marias Pass, Montana. Construction of the Pacific Coast extension westward began in 1890 and the final spike was driven near Scenic, Washington on January 6, 1893. Through the 20th century the system grew to 8,316 miles in length.
When James J. Hill retired he said, “Most men who have really lived have had, in some shape, their great adventure. This railway is mine.”
The railway was George’s great adventure as well. It led to education, career, family, and blood donations. “I started donating in college,” he said. “It felt good, and it’s one way to help.” Though he has 100 donations with CBC, the actual number is higher, dating back to his days at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. “When I started working for the Air Force the Vietnam War was going on and I signed up for blood drives.”
George and his wife raised three boys, and a son and their two grandsons live in Beavercreek. “I’d love to go back to Montana,” he said, remembering those summers working on the Great Northern. But he had no regrets when he thought about the Montana winters. “It’s too cold,” he said, “and you wouldn’t believe the snow!”