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Published: Thursday, 1/22/2009

GM employee held record for blood donations

Robert E. Schmitt, 85, a longtime skilled trades worker at the General Motors Corp. Toledo Powertrain Plant who was recognized by the Red Cross in 2003 for a record number of blood donations, died Sunday in St. Anne Mercy Hospital after a heart attack.

He'd had health problems and lived most recently in Heatherdowns Care Center.

Mr. Schmitt, formerly of West Toledo, had knee replacement surgery in 2002, but developed what doctors said was a rare infection in the bone. He used a wheelchair and was unable to donate blood thereafter.

In 2003, he was honored by the American Red Cross during a breakfast. A Red Cross official said then that he held the record in Ohio for blood donations to the Red Cross.

"It meant a lot to him," his son Robert, Jr., said. "It was a big thing with him, the effect he was having on other people's lives with his blood."

He set the state record with 715 donations of his O-negative blood to the Red Cross, or just shy of 90 gallons of blood donated. Not included, family members said, were donations he made while in the Navy and later at Flower Hospital that put his total above 100 gallons.

Early on, a co-worker had a child with hemophilia and his donations were part of the effort to help. Later, he was part of an informal group of regular donors, organized through his union, UAW Local 14, called the Vampires.

"To look at him, you'd think he was an average guy. That's the way he wanted to be," his son Dan said. "But if anybody needed anything, he was the one you'd call."

Mr. Schmitt was asked to give platelets in the early 1980s and consented to the two-hour process - twice as long as a typical blood donation. While his blood donations were limited to six a year, he could donate platelets upwards of 24 times a year.

"It doesn't cost you anything to give it so if I can help someone, I'm glad to do it," Mr. Schmitt told The Blade in 2003.

He retired in 1992 from Powertrain, where his duty was sheet metal die repair, after more than 30 years as a General Motors worker. Tool and die repair was his trade, and he earlier worked for a local shop.

"He was definitely a skilled individual," son Robert, Jr., said. "He just liked working with his hands and repairing things."

His passion was dancing, and he went to church and ethnic festivals for the chance to polka. His dance partner was longtime family friend Phyllis Glowacki.

Born in Sandusky, Mr. Schmitt grew up in West Toledo. He attended Central Catholic and DeVilbiss high schools.

He was in the Navy during World War II and was a diver who repaired ships underwater.

He was a member of the Conn-Weissenberger American Legion Post, VFW Post 2898, and the Jude Thaddeus Catholic War Veterans Post.

Mr. Schmitt and his wife, Jeannette, married May 5, 1945. She died Dec. 29, 1995.

Surviving are his sons, Robert, Jr., Ronald, Michael, and Daniel; daughter, Denise Sparks; sisters, Lizette King, Mary Heferle, and Sister Mary Michel Schmitt; 12 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

The body will be in the Ansberg-West Funeral Home after 2 p.m. today, with a recitation of the Rosary at 7 tonight and an American Legion service at

7:30 tonight in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Blessed Sacrament Church, where he was a longtime member.

The family suggests tributes to the Conn-Weissenberger American Legion Post Memorial Fund; the American Red Cross, or a charity of the donor's choice.



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