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2020 Donate Life Day Honorees

Our annual Donate Life Day Celebration is an opportunity to recognize and honor ambassadors, partners and community members who have had a significant impact on donation. Thank you to all the 2020 honorees!

It takes all of us – individually and communally – working together, to achieve the LifeSource vision that everyone shares the gift of life. 2020 was a special reminder of this because the challenges the year presented showed us that, with the support of our partners and donation advocates, we can overcome obstacles and continue to save lives. 

Ambassador of the Year
Jay Beyer-Kropuenske, Liver-Kidney Recipient 

Jay joined the LifeSource Ambassador Program in September 2013, just 8 short months after receiving a life-saving kidney and liver transplant at the University of MN Medical Center. This second chance at life inspired Jay to focus on giving back and raising awareness about the importance of donation. He hasn’t slowed down since.

In the 7+ years that Jay has been part of the LifeSource Ambassador Program, he has spent countless hours sharing his story and advocating for donation at driver’s education classes, health fairs, community events, seminars and hospital education sessions.

In addition, with Jay’s personal and professional background, he has become one of our “go to” Ambassadors in our work with legislative partners and media outlets. 

There is no Ambassador opportunity that is too big for Jay – sharing his story with hundreds at our Donate Life Symposium – or too small – helping assemble boxes for our Family Box project.

Jay is a mentor to new Ambassadors, helping them get their feet wet and encouraging them along the way, he is a friend to all. His easy-going demeanor, and great laugh, help form an instant connection with others.

Jay’s immense gratitude for his donor and the second chance at life shines through in every presentation and every conversation. The impact that Jay has made through his passion and dedication is immeasurable. 

Community Partner of the Year
Melvin Giles, Donor Partner, Community Builder, Peacemaker and Selfless Volunteer

Melvin Giles is a community activist and organizer, peace and diversity educator, social justice leader, animal advocate, and an absolute inspiration.

Melvin actively spreads peace wherever he goes either by blowing bubbles for peace or planting peace poles.

Melvin served with Catholic Charities for 15-years; working for 7-years as the Director of Catholic Charities Frogtown Center. He has extensive experience working with youth, academia, government agencies, nonprofit agencies and neighborhood groups.

Notable accomplishments include serving as an adjunct community faculty instructor in Bethel University’s Anthropology Department, a member of AfroEco and the Growing Food and Justice All Initiative, advisor to the Diversity Committee of Ramsey County Master Gardeners, certified facilitator of Racial Sobriety workshops, anti-racism trainer for the Minnesota Tri-Council Commission of the Council of Churches and founding member of the St. Paul Pluralism Circle. Melvin has received numerous awards including the Martin Luther King “Dream Keeper” Award in 2003 and the “Outstanding World Citizen” Award in 2008.

Despite all his incredible accomplishments, community organizing and the fact that everyone in St. Paul seems to know him, Melvin is not an attention seeker. So, when we asked him to be one of the faces of the LifeSource “Check the Box” ad campaign, we knew we were asking him to go outside of his comfort zone – way out. But Melvin understood the impact of people seeing someone they knew saying they supported donation.

In 2019 Melvin shared his message of hope and personal experience of healing at the Donate Life Symposium. The audience of 750 heard the story of his partner, Mary and how her gifts of organ, eye, and tissue donation are helping others after her passing.

We are honored to know Melvin and are grateful for his sharing of time, talent, positive energy and advocacy.

Donation Advocate of the Year 
Aaron & Caitlin Stromberg, Twin Cities Trade Service 

LifeSource has worked closely with Twin Cities Trade Service for nearly six years to provide tissue donor transportation services for the three-state area LifeSource serves. In addition to providing round-the-clock tissue donor transport services for LifeSource, Twin Cities Trade Service is an advocate for donation. They work closely with LifeSource collaborators and partners to ensure timely arrangements for the donor family, oftentimes serving as a resource for the funeral home and family to answer questions as they arise. Twin Cities Trade Service consistently conduct themselves with the upmost professionalism and respect. The staff at TCTS are so very pleasant to work with and have supported LifeSource through some very challenging logistics. They are always willing to entertain potential transports outside of our contracted area, and most times, facilitate these transports. They support donor funeral homes as well when facilitating transport back to their facilities upon request. They are patient, personable, professional, caring and wonderful advocates for donation and LifeSource. 

Donor Registry Impact Award
Jaycie Matthews Smith, Driver Licensing Area Supervisor, Western South Dakota

More than 90% of people who register as donors, do so at the DMV. That’s why partners like Jaycie are critical to our life-saving mission. 

Jaycie Matthews Smith is the Driver Licensing Area Supervisor for Western South Dakota. She has been working with Driver’s Licensing in South Dakota for over ten years and currently oversees five office locations throughout Western South Dakota. She has seen firsthand the impact of donation through past employees and other members in her community who participate in events such as Donate Life Month and Blue and Green Day. Jaycie believes donation is an incredible gift and finds joy in helping others make the life-saving decision to check the box while at the motor vehicle offices and encouraging her staff members to do the same. Her role has had a great impact on donor designation rates in South Dakota, and LifeSource is privileged to have her as an incredible partner in advancing our mission.  

Media Partner of the Year
Alex Jokich, Reporter, Fill-in Anchor, KSTP

The Media Partner award recognizes someone who has made a focused effort to share stories about organ donors and recipients through media, reaching hundreds of thousands of people.

Alex Jokich is a reporter and anchor for KSTP 5 Eyewitness News. She believes in the power of quality journalism – to keep people informed about their communities and, in turn, make those communities stronger.She’s earned multiple awards during her time as a journalist, including a Regional Emmy for ‘Best Documentary,’ an Edward R. Murrow Award for ‘Excellence in Social Media’ and a Michigan Association of Broadcasters Award for ‘Best Investigative Story.’

She has a unique ability to capture the emotion of a story while treating donor families with incredible care and respect. Her powerful and heroic stories of Tristan, Thon, Jerry, Wyatt, Jan Sandy and others have reached hundreds of thousands of people. Her work has surely inspired members of our community to register as donors and become advocates.

Hospital Partners of the Year

This award honors individuals from LifeSource partner hospitals who went above and beyond to contribute to the mission of organ, eye and tissue donation. 

The first two honorees lead projects to standardize donation processes in EPIC, the platform used by many care systems to coordinate patient care.  

Tammy Burke, Senior Application Analysts, Monument Health Rapid City

Tammy was nominated by LifeSource Clinical Hospital Coordinator, Emily Larimer. Tammy led a project to create templates in EPIC that allowed LifeSource to conduct our work in a more efficient and streamlined manner not only at Monument Health, but also at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN where your templates have been eagerly adopted.

Fleta (Mandy) Martinez, Senior Application Analysts, Monument Health Rapid City

Mandy is recognized for her dedication in working alongside LifeSource to create a Referral Criteria Report and Referral Notification process that has been integral to advancing donation. Not only has LifeSource and Monument Health benefitted from her innovation, but the processes she created have also been generously shared with other hospitals as a ‘best practice’.

Abdul Ali, Respiratory Therapist, North Memorial Health Hospital 

As a Respiratory Therapist, Abdul doesn’t just support his patients in the clinic. He is empathetic, compassionate and deeply committed to his work. His collaboration in bridging the gift of life to organ recipients waiting for a life-saving transplant is recognized by all and his colleagues would agree – maximizing any donation opportunity is his focus throughout the donation process.  His Supervisor calls him “Top Notch”.

Philanthropy Award

Alison Robertson and the Mueller Family, Donor Family

The Mueller family was so inspired by their personal experience of donation, that Alison approached LifeSource in the spring of 2018 with her idea to host a “Pull for Papa” event that would honor her father and his love of the outdoors.

Alison’s father, Jim Mueller died in December 2017. He gave the gift of life to three individuals through organ donation. Jim is survived by his wife and high school sweetheart, Beth. Their family includes Alison, Sarah and Matthew and seven grandchildren.

In the spring of 2019, the family met Allen, the man who received Jim’s heart. After meeting Allen, and learning about his experience with the transplant, Alison was inspired to host a mobile blood drive in partnership with Memorial Blood Center during the second Pull for Papa event in September 2019.

To date, Alison and her family have raised more than $29,000 and hosted multiple blood drives. Alison and her family have demonstrated tremendous advocacy for donation in all forms. With each event, they honor Jim and the legacy of life that he gave to others.

Jim and Marilyn Opp, Donor Family 

For more than 20 years, Jim and Marilyn Opp, and their daughters Debbie and Becky, have joined forces with LifeSource to create greater awareness of organ donation and the need for more people to designate themselves as donors. Their daughter, Terri, was born with a congenital heart defect and she died waiting for a heart transplant. She was 26.

Motivated by their family’s experience, Jim and Marilyn have been steadfast in their determination to create a world where no one dies waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. An annual golf outing with friends and coworkers at 3M that originally involved Terri, has grown to include a host of new champions of organ, eye and tissue donation – people who have volunteered their time, sponsored the tournament, or hit the links – all to raise money that ultimately educates our community, and inspires more people to register as organ donors. So far, more than $2 million dollars has been raised to support this education outreach.

In the mid-90s, at the time that Terri was waiting for a heart, only 40% of adults in our region were registered as organ donors. Since then, public education through events like the golf tournament and driver’s education programs, as well as legislative initiatives, has led to more than 95% of people now say that they support donation and 70% of adults have actively taken steps to register their decision to be an organ donor. We’ve come a long way together, but we are not done.