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East County Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2019 4 months ago

Loss of beloved community volunteer leads to blood drive in Bradenton

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Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

In her own words, Sarah Davis never had been affected by it.

She often had driven right past, not taking the time to notice the blood drives going on around her.

Then two years ago, her mother, Rosalie Wakefield, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and colorectal cancer.

Rosalie, an East County resident since 1983 and a huge volunteer worker at the Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge, underwent two dozen blood transfusions in the first year after her diagnosis. After the first year, she lost count.

All the while, Rosalie was steadfast in her objections to accepting the blood.

"She always was concerned that the blood could help someone else," Sarah said.

Clayton and Rosalie Wakefield loved working together with the Elks.

Those familiar with Rosalie's work as a coordinator of Elks Feeding Empty Little Tummies (EFELT) knew that was just Rosalie, always thinking about someone else. But Sarah and her father, Clayton Wakefield, had to make sure she kept taking the transfusions.

"Without it, she would have died real early," Clayton said.

Then came the day — April 26, 2018 — the SunCoast Blood Bank van drove up to Sarah's workplace, Norton Hammersley in Sarasota. Sarah looked out at the van.

"I had never given blood," she said.  "Never thought twice about it."

She thought of her mom, and walked to the van. She was terrified.

"But they were nice," Sarah said. "I told them why I was there and they gave me some juice. Then they took my blood. I didn't even feel it. I sat there 15 to 20 minutes, then I went back to work.

"I felt proud of myself."

Rosalie died in October and Sarah promised herself she would continue to give blood in the future. She also wondered how many people had similar fears.

That thought has led to the first Rosalie Wakefield Memorial Blood Drive and Vendor Fair, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, July 27 at the Lakewood Ranch Elks Lodge, 4602 Lena Road, Bradenton. The event is free and open to the public whether or not people want to give blood. There will be plenty of food and craft vendors on hand and the lodge will be open to all, whether or not the person is an Elks member.

"I tell people, you have to," Sarah said about giving blood. "You don't know who you are helping."

Clayton said he, too, will try to give blood during the special event. However, at 76 and with several medical issues, he isn't sure he will be a suitable candidate. Nonetheless, he will try.

He is glad the event is about giving blood as they could have started a cancer fundraiser in his wife's name.

"So many (fundraisers) go on with cancer," he said. "But they aren't getting enough blood for people who need it."

A huge turnout is expected as Rosalie, who was 72 when she died, spent the last nine years at the Elks working on the various charitable committees. She long before had established herself as a neighborhood "mom" in her community just off State Road 64 and near the Manatee River.

"They all called her 'Mom,'" Sarah said. "We moved to the east side in 1983 and we always had people from all over the neighborhood to the house. Mom was 100% Italian and she always would say, 'Are you hungry?'"

It was much the same when she joined the Elks, a commitment Clayton said she wished she had made far sooner.

"She didn't go to the Elks to sit and relax," Sarah said. "She would be cleaning everything, or walking around and picking up glasses."

Just before her death, Rosalie was more concerned with her work as EFELT coordinator than her illness. Clayton was headed to Tropicana, which had agreed to provide a room at its business so the EFELT food could be packed. Rosalie insisted on going to make sure it was perfect for the program.

She then made Clayton, who owned auto repair shops such as Palmetto Amoco and Manatee Avenue Amoco over the years, swear he would continue to coordinate and run EFELT after her death. He has kept his word.

He said he is sure the Elks will support the cause, as they know what Rosalie meant to everyone.

Clayton remembers thinking if not for the transfusions, she might not have endured so much pain.

Then he remembers the final two weeks of her life, when she could hardly move or talk. He would put on music from the 1950s and 1960s and pick her up in his arms. They would dance from room to room, wherever she needed to go.

No matter how painful, he came to a realization.

"Those were two of the best weeks of my life."

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