On Friday, April 3, 2020, the world unexpectedly lost Michael "Mike" Philip Tokars from Bradenton, Florida. Mike died in Newport Beach, California, of a pulmonary embolism. He was 31.
Beloved by family and friends who nurtured and surrounded him and his older brother with love after their mother's 1992 murder, Mike was cherished his entire life for immeasurable reasons; his tenacious curiosity, compassionate heart, infectious sense of humor, kindred spirit, and remarkable zest for life.
Mike was born April 20, 1988 in Atlanta, Georgia.
When Mike was just 4 years old, he and his 6 year old brother, Rick, were tragically thrown into the public light when their mother, Sara Ambrusko Tokars, was brutally gunned down in front of them by a hit man hired by their father.
All of Atlanta and much of the nation were heartbroken when they read of the two brave little boys who, after witnessing their mother's murder, ran through a dark field to a distant house and desperately begged the stunned homeowner to call for help for their mother.
After the murder, the boys were taken in by their maternal grandparents, former Manatee County Health Director, Dr. John Ambrusko and his wife Phyllis, and were raised in Bradenton, Florida.
Although Mike never wanted his mother's murder to define his life, the horrific events instilled in him a desire to change things for the better and would characterize him for the rest of his life.
Mike graduated from Manatee High School in Bradenton, where he played football, ran track, and rowed crew for the Sarasota Scullers.
After graduating from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree, Mike continued on to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York where he earned his master's degree. Mike worked as a reporter and content producer for The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Post, and The National Memo, and as a researcher for the television series "Crime Watch Daily With Chris Hansen".
Mike was adored by so many and impacted the lives of countless people during his abbreviated time on earth. His life is in part defined by his passions and what he valued most. He was an eloquent writer, gifted artist, voracious traveler, avid surfer and snowboarder, and music enthusiast. During his short life, he explored paths in Atlanta, New York City, and Los Angeles, and met countless meaningful friends along the way. However, he always considered Bradenton, Florida and its community to be his home.
As Mike's friend, Brendan Flanagan, reflected, "Though Mike's time was short, he will remain part of our lives forever. In many ways, we already feel his impact through the compassion, gratitude, and support that has been pouring in since his death. We hope that he is looking down on us now, together with his mom, Sara, smiling, laughing, and knowing how much he was loved and respected."
When Rick spoke at Mike's burial, his parting words were, "Mike was my younger brother, but I always looked up to him. I know Heaven instantly got more fun, vibrant, and creative with Mike up there. I love you, Mikey, and will miss you every day for the rest of my life. Love your big brother - Rick."
Mike's life can be summed up by a verse from one of his favorite poems: "what matters most...is how well you walk through the fire."
Mike was buried with his mother, Sara Ambrusko Tokars, and grandparents, John and Phyllis Ambrusko, at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.
Mike is survived by his brother, Rick Tokars; aunts, Therese (Craig Carlson) Ambrusko, Gretchen Schaeffer, Mary (Bob) Bennett, Joni Ambrusko, Karen (Neal) Wilcox, and Krissy (Gary) Pennington; nine cousins who loved him like a brother; and his beloved dog, Frank.
In lieu of flowers, friends have established a Go Fund Me page https://www.gofundme.com/f/a9rcna-support-the-tokars-family .
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