CARSON CITY — Mary Louise Helwig has been a friendly face of humor and encouragement for more than 40 years in her hometown of Carson City.
Helwig, 85, has been volunteering “every 56 days” for the American Red Cross blood drives at St. Mary’s Catholic Church and the Carson City Regional Correctional Facility.
Her job is simple, yet necessary, for the success of the blood drives. She is a welcoming smile, a listening ear, a watchful eye for woozy donors and a cookie- and juice-pushing grandma figure.
“I’ve always been a volunteer for a lot of things around town,” she said.
Some of those “things” include being a former 36-year volunteer at Carson City Hospital and 10 years cooking in the kitchen at Carson City-Crystal High School.
“I loved the teenage kids,” Helwig said with a mischievous smile. “I used to sneak the boys extra food. My boss used to get so mad.”
Though her years of helping at the high school and hospital are now behind her, Helwig is still eager to help at the blood drives in her hometown. After all, she’s been on the receiving end of donated blood more than once in her life.
“They’re so short of blood right now,” she said. “A lot of diseases or surgeries require blood.”
Helwig admitted she has only ever given blood once in her 85 years.
“I never give blood,” she said in a whisper. “I gave my mother-in-law blood once and she died. It wasn’t related at all, and that was years ago, but I haven’t given since.”
Though she’s not an active blood donor, she makes donating blood a positive experience for many in the community.
Kevin Miller, 54, of St. Johns, son of Carson City Councilman Starr Miller, is frequently called to donate double-red blood cells at the Carson City drives.
“I have a friend with leukemia,” Miller said, tearing up slightly as he lay on a bed with lines attached to his arm.
He said Helwig is always there with an encouraging word and pat on the arm when he comes in to donate.
“She’s like another mother,” Miller said.
Helwig said she loves her “job” and is always excited when it’s blood-drive time again.
“I just love talking to the people,” she said. “(Donating blood) is such a thankless position.”