WEST MILTON, Ohio – Five years after his death from blood cell cancer, memories of West Milton’s “Big Ed” Lendenski were still vivid, warm and boisterous enough to fill the room Wednesday, Aug. 2 at the sixth annual Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive.
“I liked him,” said donor Larry Manson, who met Ed when he was the new assistant football coach at Milton-Union High School. “Ed had a personality. You met him, you liked him. And once he met you, he never forgot you.”
Maybe that’s why West Milton never forgets Big Ed. Tuesday’s blood drive was the second held in conjunction with the Lions Club at the West Milton United Church of Christ. It totaled 63 donors and 49 donations.
“We started at Transfiguration Church and it’s twice now here,” said Lions Club blood drive coordinator Bob Menker. “We’re keeping everyone on the same schedule.”
Ed Lendenski passed away in 2012 at the age of 80 after a long battle with the bone marrow disorder myelodysplastic syndrome. MDS patients develop severe anemia and his treatment included many blood transfusions. His wife Carolyn and their children Julie Newman, Carol Ann Patton and Eddie Jr. began the memorial blood drive to encourage donations and to honor donors who helped extend his life.
“I didn’t realize it was the sixth year,” said Carolyn. “We started it the year he passed. I can’t believe it.”
“I can’t believe how many people,” said Julie, who told her mom she expected the day to be emotional. “I said I’d probably have to hold your hand!”
Ed was the respected principal and rugged football coach at Milton-Union with a soft spot for all his students, and especially his family. He had nicknames for everyone and personally delivered small flower bouquets to Carolyn, Julie and Carol Ann every week.
“He always looked out for the kids,” said Carolyn. “He would ask all the teachers to stand outside and greet them. A lot of them came from split families and didn’t have that.
“He wouldn’t let any teachers give test on Mondays. He knew it was hard in some homes on weekends, or the kids had things to do. Why make them take a test and fail?”
Ed is a West Milton legend, but not a native son. He was born in Natrona, Pennsylvania, played college football, served in the Army during the Korean War, and played on the Army baseball team managed by future Yankees manager Billy Martin.
Carolyn was born in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii three weeks after the Japanese attack. Her dad was a Navy sailor and she met Ed after her family moved home after the war.
A cherished memory is their celebration of their 50th anniversary in 2011. The staff at Good Samaritan Hospital arranged dinner from the Pine Club in Ed’s hospital room. Ed was weak, but wore a jacket over his pajamas. Father Charles Caserta from Transfiguration Catholic Church renewed their vows.
“It was so nice. We had a special table in the middle of the room,” said Carolyn. “Their maid-of-honor, best man, neighbors and the whole family were there,” said Julie.
Carolyn remembers a special tribute from a former student after Ed’s funeral. “He said, ‘thanks for sharing your dad with me.’”