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From Thailand to Chick-fil-A: Tom Kollars works to make a difference
kollars praying with family
Tom Kollars, left, prays with Bradly Beach, wife Alana, and son Henry outside of Chick fil-A. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Dr. Tom Kollars. You may not know the name, but it’s very likely you’ve seen him around town with his trombone. He began playing his trombone at various sites around the area during the start of the pandemic in 2020. 

But his story begins with some mosquitoes — not his trombone.

A native of New Jersey, Kollars served in the Army for 23 years. After completing his full-time service, he finished his Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Reserves. 

Kollars then went to Munich to work in the Applied Zoology Department at Ludwig Maximilian University as an ecologist, but he later returned to the U.S. to finish a Master of Science in Ecology/Biology at Austin Peay State University. He also earned a PhD in Parasitology/Immunology at Memphis State University. 

A post-doctoral fellowship in Epidemiology brought Kollars to Georgia Southern University in the early 2000s, and he went on to work at the college as an associate professor of epidemiology, as well as the director of the Biodefense and Infectious Disease Laboratory in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health. 

It was during his tenure in the Boro that he became known as the Mosquito Man, as he completed a decade of work on the PROVECTOR, an environmentally friendly device that looks somewhat  like a flower and uses a sugar-like solution with a biopesticide called Bacillus thuringiensis to attract mosquitoes that could be infected with malaria. 

“They sip the juice, ingest it and it kills the malaria and other pathogens inside the mosquito without killing it,” Kollars said. 

Kollars focused his work on malaria while he was stationed in Thailand. He worked with malaria patients and children infected with dengue fever, and he knew there had to be a way to come up with something that would reduce the impact of mosquitos on people.

But he didn’t want to kill the mosquitoes. 

“They’re bird food, bat food and also very important for pollinating flowers,” he said. “In fact, that’s what the males do. They don’t bite; they just feed on pollen and nectar. So they actually transport pollen between flowers. They’re very important in the environment.”

After the mosquito takes the bait, they will still bite — but they will no longer carry a deadly disease. 

Since the device was first introduced, Kollars says it has helped thousands of people in 60 countries.

These days, Kollars is a chaplain and medical missionary. He still travels and speaks on behalf of the PROVECTOR, and has been to about 40 countries.  He is a part of the Afro-European Medical and Research Network, a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life for people living in resource-limited places, providing medical and food resources. AEMRN serves as a platform for professionals from education, medicine, engineering, nursing and faith-based, allowing them to interact at conferences, seminars, workshops and exchange programs. 

Kollars is an infectious disease scientist and emergency response specialist, so he is often asked to speak at international meetings for various governments. He was invited to speak in Sierra Leone and the Philippines, just prior to the pandemic hitting in 2020, which caused the trip to be cancelled. He wondered what he could do instead. 

Kollars often takes his trombone along when he travels, and he plays and shares the Gospel with those he meets. So he considered that, and prayed.

“I said, ‘God, what am I supposed to do?’ And God put it on my heart to play my trombone and pray for people,” he said. 

The first time he played locally was in Claxton, and he has since played all around the Bulloch County area. He’s often seen just behind Chick-fil-A in Statesboro, playing along with the gospel music he plays from a speaker in the back of his vehicle. 

Kollars says he began playing as a way to encourage people, but he’s kept going because he sees that people not only need that encouragement, they need to hear the Gospel. He said he has spoken to hundreds of people over the past three years, and that well over 1,000 of them have come to faith.

“I’m thankful God’s using me,” he said. I’ve been driving around communities. I pretty much go out every day. I just go where the Lord leads me.”

That leading includes going beyond the local area. He has played from Florida to Reading, Pennsylvania, and  recently trekked to the UN to talk about pandemics and emergency management in his role as an epidemiologist, and about the PROVECTOR. While there, he asked if he could play some African Christmas songs, and he was able to play “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” in Swahili. 

He’s also recently played in the streets of Geneva, Switzerland, where he played French Christmas songs. But he said God led him to also play “Silent Night” in Swahili, while he was playing in front of a mall. 

A young man from Kenya walked up to him and told him that he is a recovering alcoholic. Kollars spent time talking with the young man, and shared the Gospel with him.

“He said, with tears in his eyes, ‘I feel different already; thank you so much,’” Kollars said.  “It’s such a blessing to be able to share like this.”

Kollars said that when he was a child, his grandfather told him, “Tommy, you can make this world a better place.” His grandfather was a Navy veteran of World War I, and someone that he really admired. 

Kollars started playing the trombone when he was only 9 years old. He says he got into public health because of his grandfather’s words. He picked up his trombone and became a “trombone missionary” because he just wanted to give back and make the world better for people — the same reason he became the Mosquito Man. 

“There are so many people out there who have lost their hope, and only through Jesus do we have hope,” he said. “My talents are science and music. And I hide them behind Jesus.”