Great rivalries flow out of every great competition.
Ali had Frazier. Connors had McEnroe. Palmer had Nicklaus. …
When it comes to rolling up a sleeve and offering a vein for humanity, there is none better in Spokane than Pearson and Zweifel.
Since the early 1950s, these two have unleashed a red river.
Harry Pearson, 82, has donated 253 pints of blood, just 3 pints shy of 32 gallons.
Joe Zweifel, 75, is a drip or two behind with 30.6 gallons or 245 pints.
At least those are Zweifel’s stats according to the Inland Northwest Blood Center.
Anyone within earshot of Zweifel at the blood center Saturday afternoon saw how seriously this short, snow-haired man views his donations.
In a touching ceremony honoring the hundreds of major blood donors, Zweifel was given a plaque commemorating his decades and gallons of giving.
The salty senior took one look and hollered foul. The plaque, groused Zweifel, is 3 pints low.
“You see that?” he muttered. “That should read 248. You know what I’m gonna do with this? I’m gonna throw it in the garbage!”
Zweifel apparently gave the 3 missing pints to himself, when he needed some surgery. Autologous donations aren’t figured into the total.
Susan Ogan, the Blood Center’s public relations worker, did her best. “Calm down, Joe,” she said. “We’ll work something out.”
Pearson, as always, was a perfect gentleman. “I’ve got a lot of blood relatives walking around out there,” he said with a chuckle.
The contrast between low-key Pearson and hot-blooded Zweifel isn’t really a bad thing for the center.
What it shows is that anyone can give this precious gift, no matter what temperament or background.
Ogan can appreciate that. Fighting ovarian cancer in the 1980s, she weathered the debilitating effects of chemotherapy thanks to blood transfusions.
“They’re unsung heroes,” she says of donors. “These people are saving the lives.”
Pearson, a former city worker, began donating blood in 1952 as part of his Eagle’s Club service.
The habit stuck. A healthy person can give blood every 56 days. There is no upper age limit and it generally takes about 39 or 40 years to hit the 30-gallon mark.
About 13 years into their bloodshed, Pearson met Zweifel at a party celebrating 10-gallon donors. Zweifel was ahead at that point and over the years, the lead has changed arms many times.
Zweifel O-positively hates second place.
Giving blood is obviously one of the few points of pride for this guy, who lives in a downtown low-rent hotel and hasn’t always walked on the right side of the law.
There are a few minor convictions in Zweifel’s past.
One story he tells is of being knifed in an arm during a donnybrook. After a transfusion, Zweifel says he was given 15 days in jail. “When I got out I told the judge I wouldn’t vote for her for dogcatcher,” snorts Zweifel, grinning like a naughty school kid.
Despite the rough edges, Zweifel is as regular as a Swiss watch about giving blood. Some health problems kept him from donating a few times and staying ahead of his nemesis, Pearson.
“I feel like a short-timer next to them,” says Don Mitchell, 67, who attended the ceremony. “I’m just starting my 14th gallon.”
Every drop counts. The blood center, 507 S. Washington, has 480 who have given 10 gallons.
Consider this: One pint of blood can go to help as many as four people. That means Pearson and Zweifel may have touched nearly 2,000 lives.
Do they feel like heroes? Both men flatly say no.
“It’s like anything else,” says Zweifel. “We’re just doing what needs to be done.”