Success as taught by “Big Ed” Lendenski in his years as both a football coach and a high school principal meant giving everything you’ve got, then reaching deep and finding the strength to give even more. Transfiguration Catholic Church in West Milton hosted the second annual Community Blood Center (CBC) Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive Monday, Aug. 5. “Seeing everyone here again,” said Ed’s wife Carolyn Lendenski, “Ed would be so proud.”

“Big Ed” Lendenski was a long-time football coach and principal of Milton-Union High School who died in 2012 at the age of 80 after a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow disorder. He was an active leader with the Ohio High School Athletic Association, past president of the West Milton Rotary, and a 2012 inductee into the Milton-Union Hall of Fame.

MDS patients develop severe anemia, and Ed’s treatment included many blood transfusions. His family began the memorial blood drive in his memory last year as a way to thank and honor blood donors who made his treatment possible. Ed’s friends also support the blood drive as a way to celebrate a life well lived.

“I go to church here and I came because of the drive for Ed Lendenski,” said Judy DeLong as she sat at the Donor Café table with her friend Carolyn Lendenski. They talked about the long history of blood drives in West Milton. Bob Menker was the first chairman of the long-running United Church of Christ blood drive, and the first coordinator of the Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive.

“I remember when you had to pay back the blood you used,” someone said. “My goodness,” replied Carolyn. “We could never pay back all the blood Ed used. My son Eddy donated platelets. He was giving every week. I think that helped Ed the most.”

The time came when the Gift of Life was no longer enough to keep Ed going. “I didn’t realize how bad off he was,” said Carolyn. “You’re around him all the time, you don’t see the difference. My daughter Julie asked me, ‘Mom, how much longer can you do this?’ Later she gave me a picture taken a month before he passed and I just started crying. He was always such a strong and vivacious person. He still was to me… but not like he was.”

It had been awhile since Jennifer Grilliot from Brookville had donated, but she was determined to donate in Ed’s memory. “Ed was my principal in high school and a friend,” she said. I went to school with his daughter Carol Ann. Ed and my uncle coached and taught together way back at West Milton.”

Dennis Hile made his first CBC donation at the memorial blood drive. “I knew Ed in school when he came to West Milton,” said Dennis. “I was a student at the time and later I was a Rotary member. I know the family quite well. It’s been awhile since I’ve donated. I’d like to get into the routine of it again. It’s good to make a contribution.”

At the first Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive last year, Steve Longenecker reminisced about his days of playing football for Ed, and Ed’s unique form of discipline called “locker dancing.” Ed wasn’t opposed to tossing players around the locker room to get a point across. “I was ornery!” laughed Steve. “It’s funny to think about what we used to do. You can’t do that anymore. I would challenge my teachers to see who could paddle me the hardest.”

The list of teachers he challenged did not include Ed. There was no question in Steve’s mind in how that challenge would turn out. Friends that grew up under Big Ed’s guidance remember him as bigger than life, and always setting the highest standard.

JoAnn Fine recently made her 50th lifetime blood donation. “I got my husband to start giving, and he just gave his 10th donation,” she said. Her husband Dave was one of Ed’s players.

“Ed was a big mentor to him,” said JoAnn. “Everybody loved him. He was very near and dear to our hearts. Both Ed and Dave were accepted into the West Milton Hall of Fame.” Ed passed away shortly after the induction. Entering the hall may have given Ed Lendenski a sense of accomplishment. But seeing a former player honored as well? Now that would make him proud.

Friend Judy DeLong with Carolyn Lendenski.

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