GUTHRIE — A blood drive set up to honor former Mayor Jon G. Gumerson who was sickened by West Nile virus turned into a memorial event after he died Saturday, an event organizer said.
Gumerson was 76.
Forty people gave blood Sunday at a blood drive hosted by First Christian Church and the Oklahoma Blood Institute, organizer Jessica Eaves said. Many more signed up and tried to donate.
Oklahoma and the rest of the nation have seen a record-breaking number of West Nile virus cases this year.
Gumerson had been struggling with complications from West Nile virus, Eaves said. He did not require blood transfusions, but the event correlated with his deeply held Christian beliefs and penchant for helping people, Eaves said.
“We believe Jesus died on the cross, he gave his blood for us,” said Eaves, a Christian outreach team leader at the church. “Jon shared the gospel with everyone he knew. And he shared information about our church with everyone he knew. If there's anything we could do to honor him, it would be a blood drive.”
The former Guthrie mayor taught Sunday school at the church for 50 years, Eaves said. He was also an avid Sooner fan and local businessman.
Gumerson was the vice mayor of Guthrie from 1969 to 1971, and served as mayor from 1971 to 1973. A retired insurance salesman who had lived in the city since he was two years old, Gumerson ran again in 2001 and was mayor of the city until 2007.
People contract West Nile virus when they are bitten by an infected mosquito. The virus is not spread through human-to-human contact. Horses and birds also are susceptible to West Nile virus, along with some other livestock.
West Nile virus causes two separate types of illness: West Nile fever, and serious neurological disease. Symptoms of West Nile fever include fever, headache, nausea, muscle weakness and body aches that usually last between two and six days, but sometimes longer.
Eaves gave blood for the first time today, she said.
“He was like a grandpa to me. He baptized me, and I gave today, for the first time, in memory of him,” she said. “Everyone there today came because they knew and loved Jon.”
Services for Gumerson will be 2 p.m. Thursday at the First Christian Church in Guthrie.
Contributing: Staff writer Matt Dinger