Swannanoa, N.C.—You could easily miss Swannanoa if you’re not careful. Just 10 miles east of Asheville, it calls itself the “front porch” of Western North Carolina. It’s a small porch, though: If you’re on I-40 heading east, you pretty much drive right through Swannanoa without knowing it.
Beacon Blankets used to be made here but, these days, the town of a little more than 4,000 people might be better known for the Swannanoa Gathering, an annual spring festival now in its 11th year that celebrates Appalachian Folk Dancing.
Swannanoa is also known for Ken Lanter, a fixture in Swannanoa who has been active in his church—Swannanoa United Methodist—for more than 40 years. And for more than 54 years, Ken’s been a fixture at his local Red Cross chapter. He’s a life giver; a blood donor.
“It had nothing to do with an accumulation of points or ball caps or whatever they happened to be giving away” Lanter says. “It was just well, how much more can I do?”
He’s done a lot. Since his first donation at age 18 at a Red Cross blood drive in Fries, Va., Lanter has donated more than 152 gallons of blood and platelets—enough to fill more than three orange highway barrels. It’s hard to put a figure to the number of lives he’s helped save over the years.
With eyes sparkling and always quick with a joke and a smile, Lanter says he’s 85 going on 76; he keeps up a schedule that would exhaust someone half his age. In addition to his church activities—which include singing in the choir as well as in a quartet known as Sharon and the Apple Butter Boys—Lanter is also involved in the local Lion’s Club where he helped run a concession tent at the state fair this fall, renting scooters to the disabled. Between our interview and working that tent, he was selling peanuts at the local minor-league baseball stadium. He credits his years as a blood donor for his energy. “It makes you feel good mentally and physically. For some reason, that may be the reason my health is so good now.”
A man of deep religious faith, Lanter says the notion of doing unto others is what spurs him to donate blood. And it’s a notion he says he learned not just at church, but also from his father.
“My dad did things for elderly people, a lot that people didn’t even know about; we only found out about it, you know, later in life,” Lanter told us. During the Depression, he says his father “would carry food to people who were down and out and we had no idea that he was doing that, so I guess it’s just part of the bloodline.”
It’s not just family tradition that keeps Lanter coming back to the Red Cross to donate blood: “The soft drinks and goodies, yes; camaraderie, too.” And, he says, it’s the people he sees every time he comes to donate. “I know their faces and their smiles. And the ladies and the volunteers are great. Those volunteer people; the ones on the telephone. The one who gives out goodies after you get through giving, they’re just special people, every one of them.”
Ask Lanter how long he’ll keep donating and you’ll see age is not an issue with him. “A long time” he says. “There’s no reason not to, unless you’re physically unable to. That’s all I can say about it. It’s just a no-brainer. You can’t put a value to it. It’s everything.
And that’s an attitude that makes Swannanoa, N.C., one small town with a very big heart—big enough to put it on the map.