Retired Brig. Gen. Thomas Mikolajcik was fondly remembered Thursday night in a tribute by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Mikolajcik, former commander of the Charleston Air Force Base, was diagnosed in 2003 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. He died April 17.

He was a patriot who loved serving his country, and he was deeply engaged in his community, said Peter Wertimer, chairman of the chamber military policy council. He brought people together from all walks of life to make the Charleston area a better place to live, Wertimer said.

"He taught us much about our military. We now share Tom's passion for our military. He will always be our honorary commander," said Mary Graham, the chamber's senior vice president of public policy.

Mikolajcik also worked tirelessly on behalf of victims of Lou Gehrig's disease. The Mount Pleasant resident was instrumental in forming the first ALS Association chapter in South Carolina, in 2005.

He also pushed for the creation of a local clinic that opened in July 2006 to treat those stricken with the neurological disorder. He helped lead an ALS support group, promoted the annual fundraising walk for the ALS chapter and made public appearances to focus attention on the disease.

The brigadier general visited Washington three times to push for ALS research, and he testified before a congressional committee in July 2007. He fought to spur government action on the link between military service and ALS.

Mikolajcik was recognized at the Chamber of Commerce's annual Salute to the Military at the Charleston Area Convention Center.


Winners of the chamber's 2010 Salute to the Military Awards. Honored for their service and community contributions were:

ENLISTED: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Spurgeon, Aircraft Wheel/Tire Section, 437th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base. In addition to managing personnel doing work on C-17s, he volunteered 585 hours in one year, including at Palmetto Land Baptist Church and the Family Circle Cup.

RESERVE: Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Lawrence Clark, Sector Charleston. The boatswain mate oversees staff that provides security for military port cargo. He volunteers extensively, including with the National Park Service and by organizing regional Coast Guard participation in local charities.

CIVILIAN: Frank Ruse, substance abuse program manager, Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston. He provides assistance to inmates with addiction problems and is nationally recognized for developing treatment for incarcerated veterans with PTSD. Provided 770 hours as a volunteer with 'Give An Hour,' which supports returning combat veterans.

BUSINESS: Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Ashley Phosphate Road (nominated by 437th Airlift Wing). Supports Air Force personnel by sponsoring Airman Leadership School graduates, golf tournaments, holiday events, food drives for Haiti and more.