It's his birthday today and here I am again kneeling at his grave putting flowers and birthday decorations by his name in stone. He would've been 49 this year. Today is a day he loved to celebrate - not just because it was the day he was born but because he LOVED this country.
This year was different. I'm trying not to focus on the days he was cheated and I don't ask God anymore why he was taken so violently. I've learned to not be mad at God for the way he died and I know I will never know the reasons why. Instead I'll think about the birthdays we had with him and be thankful for his life with us and all the fun years we had as we built our little family.
This year, in his honor, we had the first annual blood drive to celebrate his life while saving the lives of others. That's something Charlie would be proud of.
Thanks to OneBlood and Danielle Bird’s hard work, it was a huge success! Because of the amazing support from the community, law enforcement officers, family, and friends, OneBlood collected 78 units of blood which will save 234 lives! It's our hope that this blood drive will grow each year.
Happy birthday in heaven, Charlie.
Watch over us as we try our best to make you proud and keep your name alive.
I love and miss you so much!
Proud widow of
Officer Charles Kondek, Jr., #285
Tarpon Springs Police Dept.,
TARPON SPRINGS – The heat index was over 100 in Tarpon Springs on July 4, but that didn’t deter dozens of donors from showing up for the 2019 Officer Charlie K. Memorial Blood Drive. Held between 10 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. outside the Public Safety headquarters, the event was founded last year by Teresa Kondek, the widow of former Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles “Charlie K” Kondek, who was born on the Fourth of July and killed in the line of duty in December 2014, in conjunction with officials from blood collection service OneBlood as well as the Police Department.
According to Teresa Kondek, a West Pasco resident, she wanted to stage the blood donation drive, which debuted last year, on her husband’s birthday because he was an avid blood donor and extremely patriotic, having been born on Independence Day 1969.
“It is hot, but we wanted to celebrate his birthday, to give back to the community and to honor his life in a positive way,” she said from inside one of the three OneBlood’s Big Red Bus blood mobiles parked on South Huey Avenue. “Last year we had a good turnout for the inaugural event, and this year we had a lot of people show up right at the beginning. Next year we hope to have a barbecue with a big smoker and make it like a big Fourth of July party.”
Despite the lack of food and entertainment the event was full of patriotic sights.
American flags, red, white and blue balloons and banners flew outside the building, and at one point the Kondeks’ son, Andrew, parked the Ford pickup truck he customized into a rolling tribute to his father under a massive blue and black “tribute to fallen officers” flag, which hung from a ladder engine over a sign with Charlie’s picture on it in front of the city’s fallen officer memorial, bringing traffic to a halt.
The setting was an ideal spot after the inaugural event was held at the Publix around the corner, according to Police Chief Robert Kochen.
“This is where Charlie worked,” Kochen said. “We have the fallen officer memorial here, and we thought it would be fitting to have it here.” Teresa Kondek agreed. “Charlie worked here, his memories are here, and his name is on the building,” she said. “It makes sense to have it here.”
There were several patriotic sights at the Officer Charlie K. Memorial Blood Drive, including a massive “tribute to fallen officers” flag draped from a ladder truck in front of the Tarpon Springs Public Safety facility. While the heat would’ve been a factor no matter the location, the blood drive could’ve been held in Hades and many would’ve still shown up, including former Tarpon police officer Christopher Andrews, who worked with Charlie for a few years and considered him a father-like figure.
“He was definitely a huge role model and became a close friend after I left the force,” Andrews said as he waited his turn to donate. “Charlie was always there to help out whenever I needed advice, he talked to all the new guys and gave us encouragement to make the right decisions. So if there’s ever anything we can do to benefit him or his family in any way, we want to help.” Andrews wasn’t the only officer or first responder to show up. According to Teresa Kondek, almost a dozen officers from five different agencies came to donate.
“Between this year and last year, we were able to save/sustain over 420 lives,” she said by text a few days later. “I love that my husband’s birthday is celebrated by so many people who donate their time and blood to save a life.”
Indeed, OneBlood spokesperson Dan Eberts said it was appropriate that so many people have donated in honor of someone who gave his life protecting his community.
“The opportunity for the community to honor fallen heroes, to give a second chance to patients and families, on the holiday, it’s a great thing,” Eberts, who handles community and donor relations in the area, said. “Blood is needed every day, but when you add a face to the cause, and you have the opportunity to honor someone who literally gave all of their blood in the line of duty, it gives it new meaning. It’s very tangible. Blood is universal, and blood donors are the first first responders.”
TARPON SPRINGS — There were no city-sponsored fireworks or picnics in Tarpon Springs this Independence Day because of the coronavirus pandemic, but there was one very patriotic display in town.
Despite sweltering heat, the threat of rain and a nationwide health crisis that’s kept many people cooped up the past few months, nearly 100 donors showed up in support of the third annual Officer Charlie K. Memorial Blood Drive. The event was started by the late Tarpon Springs police officer’s widow, Teresa Kondek, and her children as a way to honor the man who was born on the Fourth of July and was tragically shot and killed while responding to a call in December 2014. “The turnout has been overwhelming,” Kondek said roughly halfway through the five-hour drive, which was held in the Publix parking lot on U.S. 19 after being located at the TSPD headquarters around the corner last year. “We’ve had a lot more people this year than last year, a lot of law enforcement support including (TSPD) Chief (Robert) Kochen and Major Jeffrey Young, and a lot of repeat visitors, people who have come every year. It seems like every year it gets more successful.” The drive was held in conjunction with OneBlood, a donation center serving the Tampa Bay and Central Florida areas, and with the COVID-19 crisis raging through the Sunshine State, this year’s event carried even more weight, according to OneBlood officials.
“The pandemic has significantly reduced the number of drives we can have, so this kind of community drive will help us make it through the summer,” said Pat Michaels, One Blood’s director of media and public relations. “With schools and many businesses closed, and no concerts or baseball games or other large community events being held, we’ve had a significant drop off and we’ve had to get very creative. So, events like this have been crucial to keep us going.”Michaels said they were following strict CDC guidelines, using four of their signature Big Red buses to allow for proper social distancing of donors, as well as giving free COVID-19 antibody tests. He added he was impressed with the turnout considering all the circumstances. “Typically, if we get 30 donors in a six-hour drive, that’s considered very good,” he said, noting each unit donated helps save three lives. “So, this is a massive, massive turnout and a hugely successful event.”
Tarpon Springs Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who stopped by the event in the afternoon, agreed.“It was a very successful drive and great to see so many people donating life during the difficult times we are facing,” he said later. “It was very appropriate to have this on the Fourth of July and I want to thank the family of Charlie and the first responders for hosting this event.”
For her part, Teresa Kondek said she’s happy they have been able to turn a family tragedy into a great community cause.
“We can’t celebrate his birthday with him, but we celebrate giving back in honor of him,” she said. “So, this is our new way to celebrate his birthday, and it’s nice to see this community still misses him and thinks about him. It’s nice to know he was loved.”
TARPON SPRINGS — For the past four years, Teresa Kondek has hosted a blood drive on July 4, the birthday of her late husband, Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek.
Officer Kondek was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 21, 2014, and hosting the event on Independence Day has been her way of giving back to the community while honoring her husband’s memory.
The 2021 edition of the Officer Charlie K. Memorial Blood Drive, hosted in conjunction with One Blood of Pinellas County, was held on Sunday, July 4, in the Publix parking lot on U.S. Highway 19, and while the event received typically excellent support from the community, this year Teresa Kondek was also joined by Stephanie Magli, the widow of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael James Magli, who was killed in the line of duty when he was run over by a fleeing drunken driver on nearby East Lake Road on Feb. 17.
Kondek explained how she formed a friendship with Magli after attending her husband’s memorial service, and she said she encouraged Stephanie to come to the event as part of the healing process.
“Doing things together is good because it helps keep his name in people’s minds,” Kondek said of Magli, who is raising two young daughters in the wake of her husband’s death. “When I spoke to her at her husband’s memorial ceremony, I learned we had a lot in common and our husbands had a lot in common and a friendship formed from there.”
According to Magli, her relationship with Teresa Kondek quickly turned into a familiar bond.
“Our relationship has formed naturally because with her and her family, they get it. They understand,” Stephanie Magli said of the unspeakable pain and grief their families have suffered. “Every one of them lived it. So, if I break down crying in the middle of the day, they understand, and if I’m feeling lonely and don’t have anyone to call, now I do.”
Magli also praised the support they have both received from their husbands’ respective departments.
“Tarpon has been amazing to her family and Pinellas County amazing to mine,” she said.
Indeed, Tarpon Springs Police Chief Jeffrey Young was one of the many supporters who stopped by the blood drive on the holiday, holding Magli’s 14-month-old daughter, Reagan, during one visit to the site.
“Teresa understands that whatever she and her family needs, we’ll always be here for her,” Chief Young said. “And the same goes for Stephanie and her kids.”
For her part, Kondek said she was “so grateful for those who take the time to donate each year,” noting this year’s event saw “enough blood collected to save 189 lives, which is incredible! Being able to save a life and celebrate Charlie’s birthday is something we are proud to be a part of.
“This year having Stephanie attend the event with us made our day even more special,” she added. “Over the past few months our families have created a bond that is unexplainable. The reason we know each other is tragic but I can’t imagine my life now without her and the girls.”
Magli was quick to thank Kondek for being there for her during an incredibly difficult time in her life.
“This is all new for us,” she said, noting, “last year we were celebrating the Fourth with our newborn daughter, and this year I stopped by the cemetery on the way here because I still can’t believe he’s gone. “You have to find the strength you didn’t know existed and you have to find your own path,” Magli added. “But to have someone who lived it and gets it, that’s been invaluable for me and the girls.”
TARPON SPRINGS — The family of fallen Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles “Charlie K” Kondek will host the fifth annual blood drive in his honor Monday, July 4, in the Publix parking lot on U.S. 19.
The Officer Charlie K Memorial Blood Drive, which will run from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., is being held in conjunction with OneBlood and will feature several big red bloodmobiles on site. All donors, who must be 16 years and older, will receive gift cards, T-shirts, a barbecue sandwich, and a wellness checkup.
According to Teresa Kondek, the widow of Officer Kondek, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in December 2014, she hopes the absence of COVID restrictions will lead to larger turnouts.
“Now that COVID restrictions are over I’m hoping the numbers are higher every year,” she said by phone a few days before the event, held annually on Independence Day, which was also Charlie K’s birthday. “We always get a lot of support from people around here, especially from the police and fire departments, but hopefully this year we start to draw more people from outside the area.”
As if organizing a blood drive during a holiday that also happens to be the birthday of your late husband isn’t trying enough, Teresa Kondek is also in the process of building a mountain retreat for law enforcement officers and their families in Macon County, North Carolina. Oh, and her son, Andrew, was scheduled to be inducted into the Tampa International Airport police force June 30.
“I’m a little overwhelmed!” Kondek admitted when asked how she is handling everything, noting she is dealing with delays obtaining permitting and supplies for “Charlie K’s Kabin.” “I’m just trying to focus on one thing at a time one day at a time. But I’ve learned over the years nothing is ever easy.”