Keeping the blood-lines open

Family of late De Pere mayor honors his memory with donations to Red Cross

Written by Todd McMahon The De Pere Journal

Family of the late Vic De Cleene gathered Dec. 22 at Pilgrim Congregational Church of Green Bay in Ashwaubenon for an American Red Cross Holiday Blood Drive. The attendees, many of whom donated blood in memory of avid donor De Cleene, included, seated from left, Stacie Kramer, JoAnn Werner and Delila Longhofer; and standing from left, Debbie Johnson, Bob Arvey, Vonnie Voight, Miranda Werner, J.J. Werner and Buddy Werner. / Todd McMahon/The De Pere Journal

The spirit of giving was alive and well at the height of the holiday season late last week.

That much was evident just down the street from Bay Park Square Mall and neighboring shopping centers in Ashwaubenon. While last-minute shoppers hunted for open parking spots and tried to avoid brushing shoulders in the crowded stores, several residents opted for the non-hassle climate at Pilgrim Congregational Church of Green Bay.

Among them were nine family members of the late Vic De Cleene.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” JoAnn Werner said after she donated a pint of blood at the American Red Cross Holiday Blood Drive on Thursday. “And, in some ways, Dad is still giving blood because he’s doing it through us.”

De Cleene, a longtime De Pere resident who died of leukemia last summer, was as well known for his myriad acts of service for others, as he was serving his hometown as a longtime Common Council member and even a stint as mayor.

“He just wanted to always do things for people,” said Vonnie Voight, the youngest of De Cleene’s seven children. “He just was all about whatever he could do for other people. That’s what his life was all about.”

The final 30-plus years of De Cleene’s fulfilling 90 years of life included donating blood on a regular basis to the Red Cross.

“He was very religious about it,” Werner, 63, said of her father.

“He gave every 58 days (the standard wait time between donations) faithfully,” Voight, 52, added. “He was very good. So, it’s not too late for me.”

Thanks to the selfless example she remembers being set by De Cleene when she was growing up in De Pere, Voight started giving blood when she entered college at age 18. Her occasional visits to local Red Cross blood drives has produced a donation of 3 gallons of blood.

“Not as good as my dad,” Voight said with a knowing smile.

De Cleene came within a pint of donating 24 gallons of blood. He was scheduled to give another pint of blood the same week he was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Just a mover and a shaker, he was always moving around and doing stuff,” Werner said. “He got bruises on his arms, and the doctor noticed it and said, ‘Let’s check that out.’

“(Everything happened) very quick. He found out June 24, and he died July 7.”

De Cleene worked as a mason contractor and later as a building inspector for the state of Wisconsin.

He also dabbled in politics. He had two long runs as a De Pere alderman, from 1964 to ’76 and then in professional retirement from 1987 to ’95.

De Cleene expanded his public service when he became interim mayor for the city after Nancy Nusbaum was elected Brown County executive in September 1995. De Cleene completed Nusbaum’s term into the following year, but he didn’t run for election, passing the torch to the current mayor, Mike Walsh.

De Cleene didn’t slow down after he stepped away from the political arena.

De Cleene, the 1994 recipient of St. Norbert College’s Civis Princeps Silver Knight Award for community service, was heavily involved in the De Pere Men’s Club and initiated the Brown County MS Walk in honor of daughter Vicki.

He also volunteered as a driver for the Meals on Wheels program and with the American Red Cross’ transportation program.

Vonnie Voight of De Pere donates a pint of blood as phlebotomist Christie Johnson from American Red Cross checks on her Dec. 22 during the Holiday Blood Drive at Pilgrim Congregational Church of Green Bay in Ashwaubenon. Voight is the youngest of the late Vic De Cleene’s seven children. / Todd McMahon/The De Pere Journal

“He was such a good role model and such a good person that it made your life better; it made us better people,” said Voight, speaking for her siblings.

Werner fondly recalls how her father proudly displayed his badges of honor for the blood donations. He would put stickers he received for every gallon of blood that was donated on a Red Cross license-plate frame on his vehicle.

“We always knew how many gallons it was,” said Werner, adding of De Cleene’s final count of nearly 24 gallons. “That’s amazing. It really is. We thought it was cool when he got eight — that was pretty cool.”

Werner, Voight and three other family members — two of Werner’s children and a niece of De Cleene — rolled up their sleeves to give blood at last week’s holiday drive. Other family members comprised what Werner called “a cheering section.”

According to American Red Cross data, the agency must collect 22,000 donations each weekday and 15,000 each weekend to ensure blood is available for patients.

De Cleene’s family has vowed to keep donating in memory of its perpetually giving patriarch, who incidentally received platelet transfusions as he was treated for the leukemia.

“Just to know that there are so many people in need,” said Werner, a retired teacher who lives in Casco.

“I was talking to my grandson (one night last week), and I said lots of people get in accidents and they need blood and what if it wasn’t there, you’d feel terrible if there was something you could’ve done that you didn’t do,” Werner added. “They don’t know you, and you don’t know them, but it’s still a neat thing to help.”

Voight, a De Pere resident, returned to her teaching job Thursday morning in Howard with the satisfaction of doing another ounce, er, pint of goodness.

“I was a slacker (with the donations) for a while, and I knew he was doing it,” Voight said. “Now, I feel like I have to step up to the plate because he’s not here, so I’m taking this over for him. I used to shovel for him, and now I’ll just give blood for him.”

 

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