Inspiring Okeechobee: Raye Deusinger, Lifeblood of the community

OKEECHOBEE — When people use the term lifeblood, usually they aren’t literally speaking of blood, but in the case of today’s “Inspiring Okeechobee” heroine, the term fits, in more ways than one.

Raye Deusinger

When anyone hears the name Raye Deusinger, he immediately thinks of blood. Raye jokingly refers to herself as the vampire lady. Lifeblood means a vital or life giving force or component, and that is exactly what Raye is. In talking to her, I was reminded of the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey never knew what an influence he had on the town while he was actually living his life there, but when he saw what things would have been like had he not been there, he realized what an impact he truly had on those around him. When I asked Raye if I could interview her for an “Inspiring Okeechobee” story, she said she wasn’t inspiring enough for one of those stories.

Raye was born in Detroit, but her family moved to Miami when she was 8 years old. Raye went to the University of Miami and earned a BA in journalism with a minor in religion. She explained she didn’t particularly want to go to college, but her mother wanted her to go, so she went to please her. Raye was never sure why she chose the fields she chose, especially religion, because she wasn’t at all religious. Looking back now, she feels God had his hand on her and directed her path.

She interned at the Miami Herald where they allowed her to do some fun feature stories, and that is where she met her husband Frank. They decided almost immediately they wanted to get married, but for the sake of Raye’s mother, they waited until after Raye graduated on June 10 to get married on June 13.

In 1972, Raye and her husband were thinking about retiring and eventually ended up buying property in Buckhead Ridge, where they began building a house. She explained, they had no idea how to build a house, and there was no internet back then. They ordered one of those steel frames and just started building! When her husband retired in 1983, they moved here permanently and lived in that house for 25 years until he passed away.
Raye originally became “The Blood Lady” when The Okeechobee Times newspaper opened.

She said she walked into the office one day and asked if she could write a column for the paper. They said yes before even asking what she planned to write about. When she told them she planned to write about blood, she said they thought that was a little strange but let her give it a try, and she wrote a weekly column on blood, entitled, “Your Blood-Your Lifeline” until the paper went out of business.

Raye is the chairperson for Okeechobee’s Blood Round Up, which, according to their website “has rustled up thousands of units of blood, saving thousands of lives!” Many towns have blood drives occasionally, usually when there is a catastrophe or a beloved town member is ill. Okeechobee has the distinction of having the largest and longest continuous blood drive in the state of Florida, and this is owed largely to the efforts of Raye. Every year she can be seen knocking on doors asking for donations, reminding everyone she meets to get out and donate. There are no excuses in Raye’s book. One man tried to tell her he couldn’t donate because he was diabetic, but she immediately shot that excuse down. Next he told her he was too old, but she replied she was quite certain she was older than him and she donates all the time. With no further excuses, the man finally just walked away.

She explained, blood has always fascinated her. During World War II, her parents were block wardens, and one of their jobs was to ensure no lights were showing anywhere on the block after dark. Raye believes she was raised with a war mentality, and during the war blood banks became very important. As soon as she became old enough to donate, she did. She passed this mentality down to her children and her grandchildren as well. “You are literally saving lives, and it’s no big deal for you to do it,” she said.

Just like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” did not see the impact he made on his community until he was shown what life would have been like if he had never been born, Raye does not see the impact she is making on her community, and unfortunately, we can’t magically show her what our town would have been like if she had never moved here, but many would say, this town would not be the same without Raye Deusinger.

If you would like to suggest someone for the Inspiring Okeechobee series, email cwomble@newszap.com.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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