When Pat Callahan attended the funeral of his friend of 18 years, Tom Stazak, who died of cancer this spring, he learned a few things from Tom’s daughter that he hadn’t known.
During her eulogy, Katey Rotenberry spoke of her father’s service during the Vietnam War, but also of the offer he gave her every weekend during their time together: an open spot in the golf group he participated in with his friends. Every Saturday, she was free to join Tom on the course for a few holes.
“That was something, number one, I never knew. That Katey played golf,” said Callahan, senior territory manager at Pelsis. “I knew Tom played golf, but I didn’t know he played that often. She said that those were some of the best memories of her life — playing golf with her dad.”
So when Callahan received an invitation from Lon Records, CEO of Agri-Turf, to attend his annual Agri-Turf golf tournament in Tustin, Calif., benefitting the American Cancer Society, something clicked in his head. Unable to participate in the tournament himself, Callahan decided to sponsor two people to attend in honor of his friend, Tom and his daughter, Katey. He asked Records to find two people to keep Tom’s memory alive.
This is the third year Records has held the tournament as CEO of Agri-Turf, and he said its popularity has been growing in recent years. Last year the event had about 100 attendees and raised around $38,000. This year, he expects more than 140 golfers and more than $50,000 in donations. The money is intended to help with research that assists in early detection and treatment of cancer, which Records believes is the best way of combatting the disease.
Records decided to search for someone in the public service sector who also was a veteran. He started at the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department, where he is good friends with the fire chief, Mike Crook. “When you have a warehouse full of chemicals you get on a first-name basis with the fire department,” Records said with a laugh.
Luckily, Crook had just the right person in mind: Takashi Hamada, a Navy veteran and firefighter who organizes and participates in golf charity tournaments in his spare time. Records knew he was the right fit. He decided that at the tournament, Hamada will golf with a fellow firefighter’s daughter, and they will be joined by two other firefighters to re-create the foursome Katey enjoyed with her father.
“This whole thing has taken a life of its own and it really has turned into something beautiful that Lon was able to find a veteran,” Callahan said. “The Holy Spirit is at work here somewhere.”
Callahan remembers Tom as a compassionate, religious and positive-thinking man, even when faced with adversity. During Katey’s eulogy, Callahan learned more about Tom’s tour in Vietnam. She said that Tom’s experience actually strengthened his love for the country, unlike many others who served and became disheartened.
“Last year I gave a surprise party for my wife’s birthday, and Tom came over,” Callahan said. “I was doing all the cooking and he said, ‘I’ll cook for you — you need to take care of your guests.’ And I said, ‘You’re my guest!’ He took over the grill, and gave me the ability to go socialize. That was the kind of person he was; he was always willing to pitch in, to lend a hand and help out.”
Hamada runs a charity golf tournament for the Autism Society through the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department, so he is no stranger to these types of fundraisers. “I don’t get to golf in my tournament, but I like golfing in other people’s tournaments because I can see all the work that goes into it and it’s for a good cause,” Hamada said. “I feel like golf has a lot of integrity and a lot of sportsmanship, so it’s a sport that I like. I enjoy playing and I enjoy watching.”
Cancer hits close to home for Hamada as well, as his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during his senior year of high school; but thankfully she is now a survivor.
This is the first time anyone has donated to sponsor someone else’s attendance at the Agri-Turf golf tournament, Records said, and he hopes it will serve as a catalyst for future donors.
“Everybody has been touched by cancer, Records says, including his parents who passed away from the disease. “The older you get, the more people you will know that have been touched.”
The author is an Athens, Ohio-based writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org