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From Humble Beginning, Mount Nittany Golf Classic Now a Major Charity Event

by and on August 08, 2017 5:00 AM

Before the Mount Nittany Medical Center Golf Classic became a reality in 1991, the forerunner of the event was a pro-am started by Altoona automobile dealer Dean Patterson, through a friendship with professional golfer Davis Love III, at Hollidaysburg’s Scotch Valley Country Club.

The initial event, the Chevy Value Leaders/Centre Community Hospital Golf Classic, drew 112 golfers and generated funds used to purchase three beds. The tournament was an offspring of the Chevy Value Leaders Pro-Am, which benefited the former Centre Community Hospital and nine other hospitals in central Pennsylvania.

The event was a great idea with several PGA tour players attending and large crowds descending on the Scotch Valley Country Club to see, up close and personal, the tour players. The problem was, the event would divide the funds generated, minus the expenses, to the 10 hospitals. Usually, each hospital would receive only around $500 per event.

So, from humble beginnings in 1991 that generated a mere $21,000 for the purchase of critical-care beds, Mount Nittany Medical Center Golf Classic has grown to become the major charity-run golf tournament in central Pennsylvania.

All of this came about through the thoughts of one woman, Bonnie Marshall, and the assistance of two strong-willed men, Gene Stocker Jr. and Dr. Jack Purnell, who were willing to take a chance to change medical assistance for the Centre Region’s population.

When Marshall, director of development for the then-named Centre Community Hospital — renamed Mount Nittany Medical Center in 2003 — conceived the idea of a golf tournament nearly 26 years ago, little did she realize just how successful the event would become.

“Now, don’t get me wrong — we were happy to receive the $500 each year,” said Marshall. “But, I just thought that if we were to run a golfing event in the State College area that we could surely make more than $500. So, I contacted Gene Stocker, who was a pro-am sponsor through his dealership, and he was very receptive to the idea, and now look at what the event has become.

“And, the one unique attraction for the tournament that no other event has is that one participant had the opportunity to drive away in a new vehicle,” said Marshall. “Just the luck of the draw. No hole-in-one. No other special gimmick. Just participate, win the drawing and drive away in a new automobile courtesy of Stocker Chevrolet. Gene gave us the car at his price, which was a generous contribution and showed how committed (he) was in making the event as huge as it has become.”

According to Stocker, “Huge, in more ways than one — this is by far the most successful golf tournament I’ve ever heard of.”

Stocker knows the people of the Centre Region are special and are willing to step forward when needed.

“It’s easier to find fault with others, but in this area the people do a lot more for others,” said Stocker. “The Penn State students with the dance marathon that has raised millions of dollars is a prime example. And, there are other fundraising activities that go on all year long for the good of the community. And that credit goes to the people in this community. We are very proud of what we have created.”

The original pro-am event, which drew some of the big names from the PGA Tour, including Johnny Miller, Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Larry Mize and Mark O’Mera, was to designed to benefit area hospitals, but it never took on the magnitude that was hoped for.

Crowds that were in the 4,000 to 5,000 range needed to be around 12,000 if the event was to generate the money needed to benefit the hospitals throughout central Pennsylvania. Those numbers never materialized, and the pro-am ended in 1991. That opened the door for the creation of the Mount Nittany Medical Center Golf Classic.

“We felt, that over time, this event would only get bigger and better each year. And, if the first two years were any indication, we knew the hospital would be able to continue to receive the items that we purchased through the golf tournament that would benefit all within the Centre region area,” said Purnell.

“We had no idea what kind of money we would be able to raise,” he said during the pre-tournament celebration held recently at Stocker’s dealership. “I find it quite interesting that in the beginning, Bonnie Marshall came to me at the hospital and said, ‘We have a person that will put up some money if you will run a golf tournament for us.’ At that time, I was the chief anesthesiologist and ... I had run a few tournaments at Centre Hills Country Club, so I knew a little bit about running an event, but not a whole lot. So, we wrote to a couple of places that had been doing tournaments and got some ideas and put it all together and that’s how we started.”

Before the tournament could get off the ground, the staff at the hospital had to be on board for the event to be the success that Marshall, Stocker and Purnell envisioned.

“The one thing we needed to do was get the doctors at the hospital to contribute,” said Purnell. “Some of them became a little reluctant at times, but the surgeons, since I was the head of the operating rooms, I sort of controlled the schedule for the usage. So, I had some real power and sort of pressed that power to those guys and said, 'If you want good times for the room at 8 a.m. or whatever schedule you want, you will need to contribute to the golf tournament.'

“As a result, I got all these guys, the surgeons, on board and (they) became contributors and I thought that was pretty good way of generating the needed funds for the event. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve lost all my power with retirement.”

Purnell added that the community — and the weather — also were factors for the tourney's success. “The community also responded fairly well and that was a significant impact on the success of the event. The players have always enjoyed the event and one of the things we’ve been very fortunate about is that we’ve never had any problem with rain or a rain delay. I hate to say that now, but that might change, but I really don’t remember the weather being a factor.”

The original committee, in addition to Marshall, Purnell and Stocker, consisted of John Cocolin, Don Farber, Jeff Fisher, Bob Hill, Pat Kindlin, Ralph Matis, Chuck Olmstead, Dr. Brian Walker, Dr. Leigh Wheeler and this article’s author, John Dixon.

During the past 26 years, the event has raised more than $2 million to support critical programs and equipment purchases at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

“I am absolutely blown away by how much the success of the hospital golf tournament has grown over the years,” said Marshall. “Thanks to the teamwork of Gene and Jack, of us putting our heads together to come up with the idea, and that it would continue to grow year after year, is simply amazing.

“We knew whatever we did would greatly benefit the hospital and the community, and that has been the intent from day one. And the twist of adding a new car (prize) to the process only increased the popularity of the event.

“I never dreamed the event would be so well received and would do so much to benefit Mount Nittany Medical Center. We just wanted to make a ton of money and can donate it back to the hospital. I guess you can say we accomplished what we set out to do, and I am more than honored to have been one of the driving forces in getting the event, even though I don’t play golf.”

The 27th annual Mount Nittany Health Foundation Golf Classic will be held Saturday at the Penn State Golf Courses. Registration opens at 9:30 a.m. with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. The event will be scramble format.

All golfers are welcome and funds raised will benefit renovations to the Mount Nittany Medical Center’s cardiac catherization lab.

“Initially envisioned by retired anesthesiologist Jack Purnell and local auto dealer Gene Stocker to make a small donation to the hospital, the tournament has become one of Mount Nittany Health Foundation's major philanthropic drives," said current tournament director Dr. Chris Yingling. "Over the course of the past 26 years, this event has raised over $2.1 million to be used for a lengthy list of hospital- and health-related purposes.

“(This year) marks the third year of a three-year commitment to donate our proceeds to a renovation and expansion of our cardiac catheterization suite,” said Yingling. “At the start of the commitment, our goal was to raise $450,000 from the 2015-2017 tournaments, and we appear to be on pace to exceed that goal.

"As a member of the health community, as well as the general community, I can't express enough how vital an up-to-date, modern catheterization lab is. Catheterization labs serve multiple roles — including diagnosis and treatment of various heart ailments, often before they have many clinical symptoms, and, perhaps most importantly, it serves in a truly lifesaving capacity to deal with acute heart attacks. 

"When a patient is unlucky enough to suffer a major heart attack, time is of the essence, and having a technologically advanced, well-staffed and, most importantly, local catheterization lab may be the difference between life and death.”

For more information, visit www.foundation.mountnittany.org/events/golf-classic.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


John covers sports for the Gazette.
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