10th annual memorial blood drive honors big heart of ‘Big Ed’

For the Miami Valley Today

WEST MILTON — The celebration of the 10th annual Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive on Sept. 1 included the presentation of the Community Blood Center “Crisis Hero” award to the West Milton Lions Club and a surprise presentation of the CBC “Blood Drop” award to Ed’s widow Carolyn Lendenski and family.

It left Carolyn Lendenski nearly speechless.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I mean zilch! Oh, my goodness. I’m just flabbergasted.”

The memorial blood drive honors the community leadership of “Big Ed,” who was a coach, teacher, athletic director and principal in his 28 years at Milton Union High School. He received multiple blood transfusions during his battle with the bone marrow disorder myelodysplastic syndrome. After his death in 2012, the family began the blood drive to thank donors.

The West Milton Lions Club hosts blood drives every two months at the West Milton United Church of Christ, and they continued throughout the pandemic, including the 2020 Ed Lendenski blood drive.

The 10th annual memorial blood drive was another success, totaling 70 donors, including 55 whole blood donations, six platelet and plasma donations and four first-time donors for 105% of collection goal.

State Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) is a physician and lifetime blood donor who grew up in West Milton and was coached by Big Ed. He regularly supports the memorial blood drive and joined in the Blood Drop award presentation.

“Throughout this community, they loved Ed,” said Huffman. “He was a coach, a principal and a leader in the community where I grew up. Toward the end of his life, we saw what blood donations did for him. We recognize him and the people who donated the blood he needed. He dedicated his life and his whole heart to West Milton.”

Carolyn Lendenski was joined at the blood drive by her daughters Carol Ann Patton and Julie Newman, as well as her son Eddie Lendenski, who made his milestone 25th lifetime donation. Eddie Lendenski began donating platelets in 2011 to help his father.

Lions blood drive coordinator Bob Menker first suggested holding a memorial blood drive to Carolyn.

“When we started, it was at Transfiguration Church,” he said. “I think it’s really paid off a lot. He was well liked, not only in our church but in the community.”

The blood drive moved to West Milton United Church of Christ in 2016 to coincide with Lions Club blood drive schedule.

“Carolyn always made it a point to be here and greet everyone,” said Menker. “She’s had a lot of friends and co-workers who have come over the years.”

One of those loyal donors is Steve Longenecker, who was coached by Big Ed at Milton Union and was a West Milton Rotary Club member with him for 20 years. Longenecker donated at the first memorial blood drive and was there Wednesday to donate again at the 10th annual.

“Ed was a character, and so was I!” said Longenecker. “You could get by with things back then that I’m not sure you could now.”

Longenecker suggests Ed’s occasional “locker dance” discipline at football or wrestling practice from decades ago.

“He used to pick me up by the shirt – clear off the ground – and bounce me off the lockers,” Longenecker said at the first memorial blood drive. “I deserved it. We were ornery – and still are!”

An enduring message over the last 10 years of the Ed Lendenski Memorial Blood Drive has been the community need for blood and Ed’s compassion for his community.

“He would be amazed people are still doing this,” said Carolyn, “and that it’s been going on for 10 years.