By: Susan Gallagher
His classic, middle-class upbringing as the son of a ketchup salesman, could have consigned Mark Toti to a dull career.
But Mark’s winning voice, outgoing nature and humor have made him something of a celebrity in his hometown of Farmington, MO. For 37 years he has been on the local radio, one of six on-air talents at KREI (AM 800) and KTJJ (98.5 FM) Radio. The stations are heard from Jefferson City to south-eastern Illinois and from St. Louis to the Missouri-Arkansas border. Surrounded by nine state parks, golf courses, off-road recreation area, hiking trails, and 15 vineyards & wineries, Mark’s hometown of Farmington, population 16,400, is 75 miles from any urban area.
“I cover news and host programs discussing local issues with guests, and I do sports play-by-play,” said Mark. “There are only 20 of us at the station so we do everything from sweeping floors to cleaning toilets.”
Mark is an avid hiker and is dedicated to exercising—doing everything from weight lifting to swimming. He is shy about discussing what he also does in his community. Local news coverage shows him involved in activities ranging from stocking shelves at food banks to joining the annual 15-mile hike for cystic fibrosis research to emceeing and serving as the auctioneer at charity events across the region.
For many years, Mark was also is an avid blood donor who donated more than a dozen times in the 1990s. Then almost 20 years ago, he was turned away from a donation center and told he could give no longer.
The reason? Mad Cow Disease--- A brain disorder in adult cattle that may be spread to humans through diseased meat. In 1996, ten people were known to have contracted a human form of the disease – vCJD, which progressively attacks the brain, but can remain dormant for decades. It is fatal and untreatable despite decades of research.
Since there was no test to screen blood donors for this disease, in 2001 the Federal Drug Administration banned blood donations from people who had lived in Europe for three months or more from 1980 through 1996.
Mark never had the disease, but he did spend time in Spain with the Navy. He enlisted after finishing high school in Eureka, Missouri, near Fenton where his parents had moved when he was 13. “I was born in St. Louis, but my dad was a salesman, who traveled for Hunt's, so I lived in Ohio, Washington State and Massachusetts before we settled in Missouri,” Mark recalled.
The transition to yet another state was tough in his early teens, but Mark was outgoing. “I was on the school newspaper and performed in plays—I even took on the role of a girl, wore a dress and I played it up,” he said. But after returning from the Navy and completing broadcasting school, Mark decided to stay in Farmington.
“I wanted to give back and being a blood donor was important to me. Being banned from blood drives really bothered me—especially since I promoted the blood drives on the air,” he said. In fact, Red Cross Communications Manager Joe Zydlo does a radio interview with Mark the first Thursday of every month, and the radio station hosts the annual Regional Radio Blood Drive in mid-October in Farmington and Festus.
It was at the Oct. 19 drive this year that things changed for Mark. In April 2020, the FDA finally announced revised guidelines lifting the ban on individuals who lived in Europe from 1980 to 1996. Mark’s 2020 drive donation was his first in 20 years. But it won’t be his last—he plans to become a regular donor.
Why is giving blood so important to him? “Giving blood saves lives and right now, it is in such short supply. We all need to do our part to make our communities a better place. Donating blood is just part of being a good citizen.”