Veteran spends retirement biking to raise charity funds
You may see John “Johnnie B.” Bjelajac on a bright yellow three-wheeled bicycle peddling around town in the next week. He is a veteran who decided to spend his retirement raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In the past he’s peddled cross country and said this year, he will ride until fall. He hasn’t exactly planned his path, but plans to visit the hospital itself which is located in Memphis, Tenn. He’ll be cycling through Fort Myers this week and next.
His motto is “The Greatest High In The World is A Smile on a Child’s Face.”
“I feel that strongly,” he said of the words on the back of his bike.
“I always remembered [celebrity] Danny Thomas talking about St. Jude Hospital, and when I got this idea, the decision was made; this is what I would do with my retirement,” he said.
He doesn’t take any funds directly, which many in North Fort Myers tried to give him.
“I tell everyone to call St. Jude directly at 1-800-4STJUDE,” he said. “I don’t accept donations.”
He started earlier this month near Daytona, and is now around the Fort Myers area. One of his stops was the North Fort Myers Amvets Post 81, of which he joined on a previous trip.
As a convenient stop, he showed up at the Amvets Post and was greeted by old and new friends. Amvets members Cathy and Milt Cusick really believe in his cause.
“It’s wonderful,” said Cathy.
“It’s nice to have a fellow vet do something like this,” added Milt.
The Amvet’s Bob and CC Adams were also good friends to him here, he said. “They got everything figured out for me — to shower, clean up and make arrangements for the day,” he said.
Another Amvet members who just met him this go-around said the man could not be more straight up in his work.
“I tried to offer him money or a check, but he wouldn’t take it,” said Amvets Post and Amvets Honor Guard member Dennis Densmore. “He’s the real deal.”
“I was here four years ago,” Bjelajac said of the local post. “I joined then and everyone was great.”
Bjelajac keeps a scrapbook of his rides, which feature a much missed companion. For several years, he rode with his dog, named Kitty Cat, who kept him in constant media spotlight in 2007, when she rode in a basket (and many times right on his shoulders) much to the media’s delight.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without people stopping, looking twice at the bike and Kitty, and circling back to take a picture,” he said.
Kitty tragically passed away, and he said there isn’t a day that goes by on his trips that he doesn’t miss her. He plans on getting a new companion after this trip, “but it has to be a dog that can go for the trip.”
Concerning stopping at the hospital for which he raises funds itself, he said, “I just want to get acquainted with it, and then I’m back to Florida.”
Concerning his future journeys, he said, “Next year, it will be something different.”