Still Giving

Reginald Reeves: A Life of Service

Published online: Jul 19, 2021 Articles, Lifestyle Linden B. Bateman
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From the days of his youth, the generous selfless disposition of Idaho Falls African American attorney Reginald Reeves has been fixed upon the needs of others. 

During Reginald’s second year at the University of Idaho law school in 1950, army General Omar Bradley issued a plea to the American people asking for blood donations to meet the urgent needs of American soldiers wounded or injured during rising combat operations in the Korean War. Inspired to action, Reginald helped organize the first college blood drive in American history and gave his first pint of blood. Every dormitory on campus had a station for blood donation, each floor in every dormitory, fraternity and sorority house had a place to give blood. A competition was organized between dormitories and floors and, through student newspapers, between colleges and universities throughout America. 

According to Reginald, students at Harvard University gave the most blood with those from the University of Idaho coming in second.

Starting with that first pint in 1950, Reginald continued to give blood throughout his life, reaching an astounding total of 50 gallons donated by 2020, which surely must be a state record and an amount which potentially could have saved 1200 military and civilian lives.. I had thought he would likely discontinue giving blood after reaching that lofty goal, but was mistaken; now in his 94th year, he continues to give blood every 56 days.

Blood and life are not all Reginald has given. 

Many years ago, Reeves founded the Sun Valley Charitable Foundation through which humanitarian aid was provided to low income and indigent individuals in 10 Eastern Idaho counties, two in south Western Montana, two in Southwestern Wyoming, one in Boise, and others in several foreign countries. Millions of dollars of donated items were gathered from businesses and individuals, including medicine, medical equipment, personal care products, food, clothing, household goods, eye glasses, computers, books, toys and other items for distribution to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, nursing homes, domestic violence centers, low income apartment complexes, senior citizen centers, veteran organizations, schools and Indian reservations. Nineteen volunteers assisted in the collection and distribution of goods to 2000 individuals and over 500 families weekly. Hundreds of computers were sent to needy school children within the United States and in third world countries. Medical and hospital equipment was sent to such places as the US Virgin Islands, Nepal, Vietnam, Kosovo and Guatemala.

Lt. Colonel Reeves also served his nation, state and community through a life long association with the military. Volunteering for reserve service at age 17 during World War II, he eventually became a Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserves. He was a platoon leader in the 382nd Infantry Regiment, taught ROTC at the University of Idaho and military government at the Presidio in San Francisco. In Idaho Falls, Reeves worked closely with Captain Jerry Wadsworth and the Navy League in the promotion of patriotic events. The two men co-founded the elite “Cedar Badge” program for the area Boy Scout Council.

As an attorney, Reginald Reeves donated some 180 hours pro bono legal work annually for Veterans.

Reginald served on many prominent commissions and councils including the Idaho State Mental Health Advisory Council, Governor’s Child

Support Enforcement Commission and the Idaho Commission of the Art and Humanities. For 12 years he played clarinet in the Idaho Falls Symphony, without compensation. His numerous awards and medals cannot all be listed but include a National First place Nathan Burkan Memorial Award for an article on copyright law, three major military awards for public service including one from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Idaho State Bar Outstanding Service Award, Alumni Hall of Fame, University of Idaho and the American Red Cross Heroes Award. 

Reginald Reeves’ career as an attorney and humanitarian included times of sadness and disappointment. 

Born in Greensboro, N.C. to James H. and Ellen Boyd Reeves, his father was a butcher but eventually operated a billiard parlor after losing a hand. His mother was an elementary school teacher. A child prodigy, Reginald started school at age 4 in the 3rd grade.  He received a degree in mathematics with honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. Deciding to study law, he applied to and was accepted by the University of Idaho law school which had the lowest tuition in the country. School officials did not realize he was Black, however, and soon after required all law school applicants to supply a photograph. Reginald was the only Black student in the law school and remembers only one other Black student at the university. He was not invited to join a legal fraternity. Discrimination was nothing new for Reginald, however; at age 17 he was arrested for sitting in a section reserved for whites on a city bus.

Reginald was invited to join the law firm of Alvin Denman in Idaho Falls, but upon arrival in town, no hotel would give him a room, nor would certain fraternal organizations allow him to attend meetings. 

Reg told me once that he never made much money as a lawyer because he spent so much time doing charity work. I recall visiting his Cambridge Avenue law office a few years ago and noticed its vintage 1960’s era décor, a time capsule. Reg read my mind and simply said he never had enough money to modernize.

I first met Reg in 1953 when my 8th grade buddy Kent Misseldine took me to visit Reg at his office to see his stamp collection. I was impressed by the humility and generosity of this man who altered his busy schedule to talk about the educational value of stamp collecting with these two unannounced, unkempt 13-year-old kids. I was even more impressed when I discovered that he paid Bud Cheney, another friend, three silver dollars to mow his lawn when the going rate was one dollar!

Sixty eight years after my first meeting with Reg, who has now long since retired, he gave me the original stamp collection he showed me in 1953. Reginald Reeves is still giving.  

 To read more of the July issue click here.

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