A tribute to a mentor

By |  October 4, 2019 0 Comments
Photo: Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger

My first day on the faculty at The Ohio State University was Dec. 1, 1983. On my second day, I went to the Ohio Turfgrass Conference and Show. After registering, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew no one. I’m sure no one knew me. As I was loitering, John Spodnik came up, shook my hand and introduced himself. John said to contact him if I needed any help.

I’ve modified that first greeting over the years, adding a little more color. In my version, John comes up to me, puts his arm around me and says, “This is how we are going to do this.”

I saw John in August at his 90th birthday celebration in Westfield, Ohio. Numerous past and present superintendents, industry representatives, golf course architects, Westfield Insurance employees, family and friends gathered to pay tribute to John. As I listened to John and his old friends, I couldn’t help but realize what an impact he had on the Northern Ohio Golf Course Superintendents Association (NOGCSA), the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) and superintendents around the country.

With thanks to Frank Dobie of Sharon Golf Club, I want to convey what it was like to be around John Spodnik.

John graduated from Portage Township High School in 1947, a short time later enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard, achieving the rank of chief petty officer (1949-1951). Following his service, he attended Fenn College — now Cleveland State University — where in 1956, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering. During this period, he worked as a crew member at Oakwood and Canterbury Country Club for the legendary Mal McLaren and at Shaker Heights Country Club for Colin Smith. In 1960, John became superintendent at Westfield Country Club, where he remained until he retired in 1995.

John became secretary/treasurer of NOGCSA in 1960 and held that title for 34 years. He transformed NOGCSA from a loosely organized group into a professional organization. He placed the organization on solid financial footing and instituted the decorum necessary to run proper meetings. As one superintendent said, “Back in those days, I hadn’t even heard of Robert’s Rules of Order, but John made sure we all knew how to run a meeting according to those rules.”

It was common after a monthly meeting that John and Don Figurella would call superintendents to ask why they were not at the meeting. John was still secretary/treasurer in 1994 when he became an honorary president of NOGCSA. During that period, he became president of GCSAA (1969), president of the Midwest Regional Turfgrass Foundation (Purdue 1975), director of the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation (1960-1967) and treasurer of The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation (1990).

John has received numerous awards, such as the Mal McLaren Award, the GCSAA Distinguished Service Award and Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Professional Excellence Award. He was inducted into the Northern Ohio Golf Association Hall of Fame.

The words integrity and honesty echoed throughout his birthday celebration. John has lived his personal and professional life believing in those words.

John’s impact on those he mentored and supported in the profession has been great. Jean Esposito, golf course superintendent/owner of Hinckley Hills Golf Club, shared that when she was just starting out, John dropped by and welcomed her to NOGCSA and has been a supporter and friend ever since. She mentioned how important that professional friendship was to her during a time when the profession was not welcoming to women.

One of the golf course superintendents John Spodnik mentored is Mark Jordan, previously superintendent and now natural resources leader at Westfield Country Club. Mark is in line to be the 2021 GCSAA president. Maybe John once put his arm around Mark and said, “This is how we are going to do this.”

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