New Daystar Director.

Daystar Life Center of Citrus County has had a change in leadership. Anthony Kopka, left, has retired from the executive director position and AnnMarie Anzalone-Briercheck, right, has taken over the position.

Even though Anthony Kopka had retired June 30 as Daystar Life Center of Citrus County executive director, on July 1 he was still there, wearing his “Happy Retirement” sash, welcoming his replacement, AnnMarie Anzalone-Briercheck.

As the two sat together, they reminisced about the first time they met in 2014 when Kopka first started at the nonprofit help agency.

Anzalone-Briercheck’s son, then a student at St. John Paul II Catholic School, wanted to buy as many boxes of Cheerios as he could and donate them to Daystar.

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The school often had food drives for Daystar, but he wanted to do this on his own.

So, they went to Publix in Citrus Hills and discovered that not only was Cheerios a Publix “BOGO” that week, but each box had a BOGO — buy one, get one free — coupon attached.

“My son figured out that after buying just one box, the rest would be free,” Anzalone-Briercheck said.

It meant having to make multiple trips in and out of the store to cut the coupons off the cereal boxes, which caught the attention of the store manager, who happened to be a friend.

When Anzalone-Briercheck explained what they were doing, the manager was all for it and they ended up delivering around 75 boxes of Cheerios for the price of one to a delighted Kopka.

That started their friendship, which has continued through serving together at Rotary Club of Central Citrus and other community service events.

Fast-forward seven years to Kopka deciding to retire.

“Why now? I have a new grandson in Connecticut who is 9 months old and because of the pandemic I’ve never met, and two others, 5 and 8, that I haven’t seen in a year-and-a-half,” Kopka said. “While I still can, I want to be able to spend time with them.”

As for choosing Anzalone-Briercheck as his replacement, Kopka said Daystar regularly has events at Tuscany on the Meadows, the special events and catering business Anzalone-Briercheck owns, and he had gone to her office to pay the bill for the most recent Daystar volunteers appreciation banquet.

“We got to talking and she said, ‘I’d really like to do something more in the community.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m planning on retiring June 30.’ I also told her she has all the qualifications I would look for in my replacement,” he said.

“She has a heart for people, that’s the number one qualification,” he said, “and she’s very generous. The other best qualification is being a single mom raising two boys all on her own without public assistance; also, she started her own business — to run a nonprofit, you’ve got to really watch your bottom line; you have to know how to spend money wisely.

“So, I knew right away from all the years through Rotary and doing business with her at Tuscany on the Meadows that she would be perfect for this job,” Kopka said.

Anzalone-Briercheck also said this job is perfect for her.

“I’m always seeking ways to serve God and the community, and this is a way to take it to the next level,” she said. “And I’ll still be able to do what I love to do, and that’s weddings on the weekends.

“This is a great opportunity, a great balance, and the time is perfect because my son is leaving for college next year,” she said.

As executive director, Anzalone-Briercheck will be running the day-to-day operations, fundraising and writing grants, and community relations.

She said she has big shoes to fill and wishes Kopka the best in his retirement.

“Even though Anthony has been here for only seven years, he has a lifetime of serving God and his community ... that’s all he’s ever done,” she said.

As for Kopka, he has signed up as a Daystar volunteer.

“I’ll be running the cash register at the thrift store on Tuesdays,” he said. “AnnMarie bribed me with cannolis.”

Visit Daystar anytime between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6751 W. Gulf-to-Lake Highway, Crystal River. Call 352-795-8668.

For more information, visit www.DaystarCitrusCounty.org.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com. Read more of Nancy's stories at tinyurl.com/yxt69grh