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At age 97, River Falls Red Cross volunteer named a hero

"Give, give!" Polly Wymer exclaimed as she sat in one of her hometown's coffee shops. Though she can't donate her own blood, she is constantly giving away her time to the local River Falls blood drive. Rachel Helgeson / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Longtime blood drive organizer Polly Wymer takes a break from her canteening station at the November 2018 American Red Cross blood drive at River Falls American Legion. Wymer has been involved in canteening and organizing this drive for more than 40 years. Photo courtesy of Justin Kern 2 / 2

The key to a long, independent life might finally be proven through one 97-year-old woman's philosophy: "Give, give, give."

After countless decades as an American Red Cross volunteer in her hometown of River Falls, Polly Wymer is being awarded for her service.

"I have no idea how many years I've volunteered," Wymer said, chuckling and shaking her head during an interview. "You just get such a satisfaction when you volunteer."

On March 13 Wymer will be honored by the Northwest Wisconsin Red Cross Chapter at a Heroes Breakfast in Eau Claire. She is being awarded as a "From the Heart Hero" for her service at the blood drives hosted by the American Legion Post 121 in River Falls.

A news release from the Red Cross said the annual event will specifically be celebrating "local people who were involved in selfless acts of courage and kindness during the past year."

Six others are being awarded alongside Wymer, among them country singer Chris Kroeze from Barron who has recently become a big television and community icon.

Wymer, who deliberated over accepting to be featured in the newspaper or not, is reluctant to receive her award.

"I told many other people that they should have this award. Especially the ones that are donating that blood, it is so important," Wymer said with a stern certainty. "You never know when you're going to need blood."

After a life-threatening accident many years ago, Polly's husband Stan Wymer was given 12 units, or about 12 pints, of blood. Stan was a military veteran and father to their six children. Polly said she is grateful to the Red Cross and blood donors.

"I've been so appreciative of all the help that I've gotten because my husband had a bad accident and I raised six children," Polly said. "I wish I could help a few more people. People have been so good to me."

Polly has only donated blood once, back in 1975.

"I still have the card that says what my blood type is. I have the good blood, the blood they need."

She has been unable to donate since due to anemia, but offers the next best resource a blood drive needs: Her time.

At the blood drives, she enjoys encouraging stubborn people to drink water before donating and is always watching those who might grow faint after donating.

"You have to watch them," Polly said, shaking her finger in the air. "Some of them get faint like one guy ... who wanted that 10-gallon pin."

The Red Cross gives pins to those who donate certain amounts of blood.

"He passed away now," Polly recollected. "Oh, he was so proud of that pin. I'll never forget that boy, he was such a good soul."

Outside of blood drives and donations, Polly is thankful to the Red Cross for also helping her son, Bill Wymer, who almost died from meningitis at age 17.

"He couldn't wait to get in the service ... he went into the marines. One day I got a call from somebody who said my son was sick and was going to die. But the Red Cross helped him."

Polly said it is harder to be on the receiving end than on the giving end.

"Make somebody more comfortable," she said earnestly at the end of the interview.

Polly is planning on volunteering at the March 14 blood drive at the Legion in River Falls, the day after being awarded by the Red Cross.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864