Edward “Big Ed” Lendenski was a giant of a man who cast a long shadow in the West Milton community and beyond through his long career as a high school coach, principal and civic leader. It’s a rare tribute when former players and lifelong friends not only gather to donate blood in his honor, but can also chuckle as they remember some of Big Ed’s character-building sessions, also known as “locker wars.”
West Milton insurance agent Mark Hamber made his 32nd lifetime donation at the Community Blood Center (CBC) Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive, held Monday, Aug. 20 at Transfiguration Catholic Church. He recalled playing basketball and baseball for Ed at Milton-Union High School, and they were in Rotary Club together for 30 years.
“He was a wonderful man, a good person, always fun to be around,” he said. His smile grew as a memory awakened he almost hesitated to share. He spotted former Milton-Union classmate Steven Longenecker in the donation screening area and said, “Ask Steve about the locker wars.”
Steve didn’t hesitate. “He used to pick me up by the shirt – clear off the ground – and bounce me off the lockers,” he said, recalling Ed’s discipline at football or wrestling practice. “I’ve got my memories of Ed!”
Their stories are surprising, hilarious, and yes, politically incorrect, given current sensibilities and education standards. But the men remember it as tough love and deliberate leadership during a very different time.
“I deserved it,” said Steve. “We were ornery – and still are! The 1960’s and 70’s… they were rough back then. He had to deal with us differently.”
Ed maintained his firm but fair approach when he left coaching to serve as principal of Milton-Union High School from 1968 to 1991. He was a valued leader with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and past president of the West Milton Rotary. He was inducted this year into the Milton-Union Hall of Fame, and died in May at the age of 80 after a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder.
MDS patients develop severe anemia, and Ed’s treatment had included many blood transfusions. He also received directed platelet donations from his son Eddie. “They were an exact match,” recalled Carolyn Lendenski, Ed’s wife of 50 years. “They seemed to help him.”
Blood drive chairman Bob Mecker suggested the idea of a memorial blood drive to Carolyn one day when she stopped by his West Milton flower shop. “I said that would be great!” she recalled. “Ed had so many pints of blood, tons and tons of blood. “We are so grateful to Community Blood Center for all they did for him. Anything I could do.”
Monday’s blood drive added to the legacy of “Big Ed” with 34 people registering to donate, including seven first-time donors, and 28 units donated.
For Steve Longenecker, the drive was an encouragement to be a donor again after a long absence. It was also an opportunity to remember a mentor who was quick to challenge and support young men when they needed a lift in life, even if it sometimes meant lifting them off their feet.