Valley Voices

How do I say thank you for four more years with Daddy’s girl?

Jenny Eller died Oct. 28, 1995, at age 21 of leukemia.
Jenny Eller died Oct. 28, 1995, at age 21 of leukemia.

Have you ever had exceptional service somewhere, prompting you to offer a heartfelt “thank you” to the person helping you? What often comes next disheartens me.

Rote responses range from “no problem” to “just doin’ my job.” Sometimes you get a shrug of the shoulders or no response at all. Have the words thank you lost their meaning in society today?

Perhaps, but not for me!

To all of you in the Central Valley, I say, “Thank you for allowing me to serve you for the past 18 years as CEO of the Central California Blood Center.” My thank you stirs an emotion so deep in me I can barely see through my tears as I write this.

Twenty-five years ago, you embraced a young woman – my daughter, Jenny – whose passion for blood donations began with a frightening diagnosis of leukemia. This would not be a simple skirmish. Her fight would require her to wage war against this virulent disease: physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Yet you held her close to your hearts and accepted her mission as your own. Your response was, and still is, overwhelming to me.

How do I say thank you for the love you poured out upon Jenny? That love carried her through many battles with much joy and an ever-present smile on her face!

How do I say thank you to a community that rallied around me as I struggled to fulfill a promise I had made to Jenny moments before she passed away? I vowed to carry on her zeal for saving lives through blood donations.

But how could I, a career mortgage banker, make the transition into this life-saving industry? I was a grieving father who lacked not only experience but also knowledge of what it takes to run a blood center.

All I knew was that Jenny had passed on her passion to save lives to me that night.

With a smile and that playful smirk on her face, I’m sure she whispered in God’s ear “to light the path and show my dad the way forward.” Because she was her “daddy’s girl,” she had the ability to get me to do just about anything, and this night was no different. The space between earth and heaven did not exist that night. Still doesn’t!

The spirit Jenny embodied – and we all embraced so lovingly – continues to permeate our community to this day.

Literally, thousands of people have told me they continue to give blood because they still see her smile, feel her love, and understand their blood donations kept Jenny alive for nearly four years. The residual effect is that tens of thousands (yes, I said tens of thousands!) of other patients have been saved because of her presence in your lives.

How can I say thank you to that?

When Jenny would be asked to speak at events, churches, schools, or service groups, she would routinely say, “Thank you for letting me live.” She was proof, in the flesh, to the audience that she would not be able to stand before them without the generosity of transfusions from blood donors. You kept her alive from week-to- week because her body stopped making blood as a result of chemotherapy.

To say Jenny was in love with all of you would be an understatement. She lived life to the fullest during those years you gave her. And you gave this father four more birthdays and Christmases, and years to cherish and remember for a lifetime.

How can I say thank you to that?

As I transition from this chapter of my life into retirement, I will certainly take all of you with me. Remember when I said, “The space between earth and heaven did not exist” on the night Jenny died.

I have that same feeling now, knowing there will not be space between you and me. We have done this together. We have led with our hearts, and we have accomplished so much more than that simple promise I made to Jenny.

Yes, the promise was kept. But what will remain is a legacy on what love can do when a community responds to an 18-year- old girl with a megawatt dimpled smile; a father listening to a loving whisper in his ear; and blood donors who understand their gift is the difference between life and death for someone.

How do I thank you when I don’t have the ability to convey such deep gratitude? I can’t, but I know Jenny can. She is good at whispering in your ear!

Feel loved my friends…you deserve it. So, instead of thank you, I will just say what is truly in my heart, “I love you, Central Valley!”

Dean Eller retires this month as president and CEO of the Central California Blood Center after 18 years of service. He can be reached at deller@donateblood.org.

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