GREENVILLE, Ohio – The Darke County OSU Alumni Club was on a roll Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the 24th annual Tailgate Blood Drive. Donors rolled up their sleeves, volunteers rolled out chocolate Buckeye treats, and superfan “OSU Buckeyeman” Larry Lokai rolled into town with Buckeye necklaces and his special brand of fun.
“We’re going to learn a lot this time around,” said Alumni Club President Bill Barga, who stepped in as blood drive coordinator in place of long-time coordinator Jan Boyer who passed away in August. “But we have lots of volunteers, lots of door prizes, and lots of treats, including lots of good Buckeyes!”
Donors filled the beds in the Greenville Church of the Brethren for the Tailgate Blood Drive, totaling 126 whole blood donors and 107 donations, plus 11 platelet and plasma donors.
Greenville’s Fred Roll was the first apheresis donor of the day, donating platelets for his 247th lifetime donation. “I don’t really follow sports,” he said about the Tailgate theme. “But I rub shoulders with plenty of people who do, so I hear everything I want to hear about Ohio State!”
Almost near enough to rub shoulders with Fred was Greenville donor Mike Dohme. He wore a scarlet OSU shirt to make his 191st lifetime donation. “I always support the Buckeyes,” said Mike. “I come every year for this.”
When Mike sat down for a chocolate Buckeye in the Donor Café he was soon shaking hands with “Buckeyeman” Larry Lokai, who crowned him with a necklace of Buckeye nuts and snapped pictures together for Facebook.
“How do you overcome being shy?” Larry quizzed Mike. He replied, “You’ve got to talk to people, and always smile.” Larry nodded his wild wig-covered head in approval.
Smiles came easy for Buckeye fans at the blood drive, thanks to Saturday’s blow-out win over Michigan State that helped the erase the pain of the prior week’s stunning loss to Iowa. Larry was at both games, riding the wave of emotion.
When Ohio State plays Michigan on Nov. 23 it will mark the 20th anniversary of the first game Larry donned the wig, OSU jersey and face paint to become “Buckeyeman.”
This anniversary season has been a wave of emotion for a guy whose job is to keep everyone upbeat. Fans felt sick about the loss to Oklahoma, but Larry was literally sick with a stomach bug. He left at halftime and spent the next four days in bed.
“I missed two games this year,” said Larry. “My dad passed away at 103 and my sister with Down syndrome at 63. They passed away within two weeks of each other.”
Larry got back in the game, but he had to make some changes. The weight of eight Buckeye necklaces (for OSU’s eight national titles) and 114 Buckeye nuts (for the number of games against Michigan) was too much for his neck.
“I’ve cut it back to 42 Buckeyes for the year I was born,” he said, “and four necklaces for all four of my children that went to Ohio State.” For the record, Larry was the first in his family to graduate from OSU in 1967. His granddaughter graduating in December will be the 23rd.
Larry refuses to cut-back on his superfan schedule, especially with Michigan Week coming up.
“The key thing is I try to do as many activities as I can with area OSU alumni clubs,” he said. “I belong to four clubs (including the Darke County club) and four societies, and I do as much as I can with them. If they’re in, oh, about 100-mile driving range I try to come.”
That includes squeezing in a stop at the Nov. 21 Farm Bureau Women’s Committee blood drive in Sidney, co-sponsored this year for the first time by the Shelby Co. OSU Alumni Association.