In the Pipeline: Help for vets goes beyond sign

Leave a little bit of extra time. That's the thing to remember when you stop by Johnny's Saloon on Beach Boulevard to talk to Johnny for a while.

It's what I learned one recent night when I had a beer with the burly and bearded Johnny Kresimir in the establishment that bears his name. You see, barely a minute goes by before someone will walk up behind him to say thank you or give him a hug. Then he'll ask what else he can do for the person, and the response will be a version of "You've done enough."

The place may have a reputation as a rock 'n' roll establishment — well earned, I might say — but last fall, after the story surrounding Kresimir's rooftop sign in support of veterans went national, I got to see that there's more to Johnny's than music.

The night I was there, I met a 38-year old Marine named Alfonso Martinez, a combat veteran who has seen action all over the world. Once he came home, he learned that his newborn son needed a medical procedure. With his own military insurance caught up in red tape, he didn't know what to do. But Kresimir did.

Martinez said Kresimir organized a fundraiser to help pay for the boy's surgery. Martinez is now suffering from testicular cancer, and he said Kresimir has already offered to help in any way that he can.

"That's what this guy does," Martinez said. "I don't think you can even count the number of locals that Johnny has reached out (to) and done something for. He heard about a homeless veteran, and he rallied his troops, and they found the guy a job, a place to live and clothes and toys for his little girl.

"He won't talk about it a lot. He doesn't want a lot of attention. But he is always doing these things."

Neisha Dressler has also been helped by Johnny. Last year her husband, active Marine Jon Dressler, was killed by a drunk driver. She was 4 1/2 months pregnant at the time.

"My husband and Johnny were good friends, and right after that horrible accident he reached out and made sure that I had whatever I needed," Dressler said. "It was amazing. When I had my baby several months later, because of Johnny's fundraising, I had everything I needed.

"All the supplies and clothes, not to mention lots of gift cards that were donated, which really helped me and my two girls. Johnny hears about something, somebody in need, and within a seconds he is doing something about it."

Recently I wrote a column about the Huntington Beach Police Department's K-9 force and the fact that it is down to just two dogs. Kresimir read that and reached out to the department to see how he could help.

"I've been kicking around this idea called Pets for Vets, where we would match up veterans with either a companion or service dog," he told me. "So what I'm trying to do now is raise money not just for another dog but also a training ground here in Huntington Beach that the police can use but that we can also use to train dogs for vets."

Starting this week, Johnny's Saloon will begin selling T-shirts to help raise funds for his new effort. You can stop by the bar or visit to purchase one. The suggested donation is $20.

Kresimir also has become heavily involved in helping the Marines stage their 5K charity run each spring in Huntington Beach.

This is a guy who doesn't put a sign on a building just to make a statement.

He takes "Thank a veteran for your freedom!" seriously, and his outreach extends beyond helping veterans. I find his commitment to the city and assistance to those in need highly admirable and, quite frankly, a strong lesson in how small businesses can make a big difference.

And if you ever have the pleasure of having a beer with Kresimir over at his place, just be patient as the people step up to share moment with him. Trust me, you'll hear some amazing stories.


Local legacy

On a sad note, former Parks Commissioner Thomas Cooper recently died. We met in December, when his family unveiled a commemorative bench in Huntington Beach Central Park with his name on it. In addition to his important work on the commission, Cooper handed out trophies at many Huntington Beach surfing competitions and hosted a series on Channel 3 called "Interviews with former Huntington Beach mayors."

Many people were on hand for the unveiling of the bench, and we're all happy that Cooper was able to enjoy the day.

Condolences to his family, and if you're ever in the park right by Kathy May's lakeside restaurant, perhaps take a seat at the bench in honor of Cooper's important local legacy.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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