Gerald Ray and Ernie Dieterich were friends for more than four decades. When Dieterich, 84, died last December, Ray needed to do something to honor him.
“Ernie was my best friend,” said Ray, 78.
The two friends spent years volunteering and donating to Inland Northwest Blood Center. Ray said Dieterich was known for volunteering at high school blood drives.
“They used to request him,” said Melanie Fisher, development and communications manager at the center. “He used to wiggle his ears.”
Ray said Dieterich did everything he could to help. He worked in the canteen, distributing juice and snacks to people who had just donated blood. He helped the nurses unload the mobile blood truck at the end of a long day.
“He never missed an opportunity to teach and was an inspiration to nervous new donors, learning early on to spot the probable fainters and reassure them,” Ray said in an obituary he wrote for Dieterich.
“He did everything but put the needle in the arm,” Ray said.
The two became friends after Dieterich married Ray’s sister-in-law, Wanda. Ray’s brother had died, leaving behind Wanda and three boys. Ray said Dieterich raised those boys as if they were his own and faithfully attended all their school activities.
Ray said Dieterich didn’t want anyone to know he was sick. He sold the family home and moved into a retirement community where his wife could get meals and make new friends after he died.
To honor him, Ray wrote Dieterich an obituary and wanted to do something more to leave Dieterich’s mark on the world. He talked to a cousin, Ed Ray, who suggested a plaque in Dieterich’s honor. The two sat down and talked about what they wanted the plaque to say, and when it was completed, Ed Ray paid for it.
“It looks nice,” Fisher told Ray. “Thank you.”
The plaque includes a picture of Dieterich driving the mobile blood truck. The center plans to hang it in the canteen above the sign that tells donors when they can next donate.
“I just know he had to be remembered,” Ray said.
While Ray has been volunteering at the center for years, he was always astounded by Dieterich’s dedication. Ray said there were years when it seemed he had worked a lot of hours, about 120 to 150 hours in one year, but then he found out Dieterich had donated 800 hours.
Ray, always an advocate for donating blood, hoped a little publicity about Dieterich’s life and volunteer work would inspire people to donate blood.
“I just really believe in it,” Ray said. Now, when Ray comes to the center to donate, he will be able to see the picture of his friend.
“He was perfect,” Ray said. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.”