Fallen McHenry County deputy Jake Keltner remembered at Crystal Lake blood drive in his honor

Howard Keltner said Sunday that blood transfusions given to his late son, McHenry County Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Keltner who was killed in the line of duty in 2019, were what allowed the law enforcement officer to stay alive long enough so his family had the chance to say goodbye.

Howard Keltner recalled the farewell as he was donating blood at the third annual blood drive in McHenry County hosted by Becki Keltner, the former deputy’s widow and the mother of their two 7-year-old and 9-year-old sons.

“The blood gave us time to say goodbye. I can’t even tell you how much it meant that I was able to say goodbye to my son,” Howard Keltner said. “If you don’t give blood here today, give it at some point. Even if you just do it once a year, you got to do it, because someday you may need it.”

The event was hosted at the Sage YMCA in Crystal Lake and it saw more than 200 people sign up to donate.

It was part of the national Blue Blood Drive put on by the American Red Cross and the nonprofit Concerns of Police Survivors, and came as hospitals in northern Illinois are facing shortages of blood, according to Northwest Herald reporting last month.

“There is actually the highest blood shortage in over a decade right now, so it’s dangerously low,” Becki Keltner said. “It’s really important what we’re doing today.”

The Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47 classes attended by Becki and Jake Keltner’s sons – Caleb, a fourth-grader, and Carson, a second-grader – crafted hearts with messages of thanks that were handed out to blood donors who attended Sunday’s drive.

“The holidays are difficult for our family. We’re missing Jake every day. This is a way to help remember and honor him,” Becki Keltner said.

Friends and former colleagues of Jake Keltner were among the hundreds of donors who gave blood Sunday, including Mike Kuvales, who serves as an area law enforcement officer and was on the same U.S. Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force team as Keltner at the time of his death.

Keltner died after after being shot while serving a warrant on a wanted man at a Rockford hotel.

Kuvales has donated at all three of the annual blood drives in memory of Keltner since then.

“I’ve seen throughout the years many people sent to the hospital, officers included, and the blood is a huge asset to keeping people healthy, keeping people alive, so absolutely, if you can, donate,” Kuvales said.

Both Andy Preuss and Tom Malkowski have been friends with members of the Keltner family for years and came to do their part to help ease the blood shortage.

“My nephew was Jake’s best friend growing up,” Preuss said. “Donating is a no-brainer. I donate probably not enough, but at least every year since this has started. It feels terrific. The more you read about it, the more you understand it. I feel like I should do it more often.”

Malkowski agreed, and said he regularly donates blood and plans to do so again when he is eligible.

“Since they started doing this, I’ve been here for every one and don’t plan on missing it,” Malkowski, a resident of the Gurnee area, said. “I haven’t needed blood yet in any of my procedures but I would like to know that I’ve at least given if I ever need it.”