The year was 1967, and Carole Munn, who had spent her whole life in big cities, found herself in Caldwell, Idaho, after her husband was transferred there for work. A stay-at-home mom, Carole was looking for a way to get involved in the community.
“Just on a whim someone said, ‘Why don’t you look into Red Cross?,’” Carole remembers. “So I did.”
And she never looked back.
For the last 55 years, Carole became synonymous with Red Cross blood drives in Caldwell. Starting out as a front desk helper at local blood drives, Carole eventually took the reins as Caldwell’s blood drive organizer, recruiting other volunteers and donors, finding locations for drives and partnering with civic organizations, among her many, many other duties.
Now age 89, Carole has some 300 Red Cross blood drives under her belt – drives that have collected a jaw-dropping 30,000 units of lifesaving blood. All of this work was done as a volunteer.
“I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” she said. “I met such wonderful people and made close friends through the Red Cross. It was just part of my life.”
Much has changed since Carole first came onboard in the ’60s. She remembers the days before donation appointments – and websites and apps – when busloads of Simplot Company employees would come through the door. They would collect 200 units of blood, stored in glass bottles at the time, during a single drive, and volunteers would use typewriters to fill out donor cards.
Looking to streamline the process, Carole worked with Red Cross to set up a scheduling system and rallied a team of volunteers to make reminder calls ahead of the drives. She also appealed to donors’ bellies by reaching out to civic groups like Kiwanis, the Lions and the Rotarians who provided lunch. She said the only time they didn’t serve lunch at one of her drives was during the heart of COVID when it wasn’t possible.
Four decades ago, when Red Cross was struggling to find a location for a Christmas Eve drive in Caldwell, Carole took charge. A local Rotarian had died during an accident while shoveling snow, and Carole suggested that Rotary do an annual blood drive in his memory.
“And oh, did they pick up on that,” she said.
Kiwanis jumped in too, and Caldwell has had a Christmas Eve drive ever since. Carole said it’s not uncommon to see families with three generations of donors come out to this drive each year.
“And that just warms my heart,” she said. “I love seeing that.”
The last few years, Carole has organized about five drives a year in Caldwell, all at the Church of Christ. And she’s got a dedicated team of volunteers there to back her up.
“Some of my workers have been with me almost as long as I’ve been doing it,” she said.
Carole’s tireless efforts have earned her countless awards through the years, including the Statesman Distinguished Citizen Award in 1990; the governor’s Brightest Star award in 2008; the American Red Cross Hometown Hero Award in 2014; and the College of Idaho Hometown Hero award in 2016.
“I have had the honor and privilege to work with Carole for the last couple of years,” said Jake Reines, a Red Cross account manager who helps coordinate blood drives in the Caldwell area. “Her passion and dedication to help save lives is astounding, and she is truly one of a kind. I value Carole’s commitment to a lifelong service for the American Red Cross and the tens of thousands of individuals she has helped. "
Besides five decades with Red Cross, Carole served as an election judge for 40 years, has sung in her church choir for 50 years and ran a bridge club for 50 years before it was sidelined by COVID. And she was married to her husband for 58 years before he lost his battle with cancer.
“I’ve always believed in long-term commitments,” she said.
This year’s Christmas Eve drive — which actually fell on Dec. 23 this year — was officially Carole’s last as a Red Cross volunteer. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be making a guest appearance at a Caldwell drive from time to time.
“It’s going to be very hard to stay away,” she said. “At some point I’m going to be hopping in at the drawings to see how things are going.”
Looking back at 55 years of Red Cross blood drives and the 30,000 units of lifesaving blood that came in along the way, Carole said she can’t help but smile.
“It’s a blessing for me to know so many lives have been saved,” she said. “I feel like I’ve done a good service, and I’m very proud of it.”