August 10, 2009

PGA of America Set To Honor A True American Hero

On Wednesday, the PGA of America will honor the lifelong achievements of Bill Powell -- a man who built and ran an Ohio golf course that is still the only one in the country designed, built and operated by an African-American. Powell achieved this despite the abject racism of America in the 1940's and beyond, and in some corners, remains a fresh and ugly stain on the present fabric of our time. The PGA's gesture is not a liberal feel-good story, it is recognition of a man who continuously beat long odds, prospered and made the world a much better place for us to live in by so doing.

The New York Times has a good story on the upcoming honorarium, "After Battling Racism, Veteran Found His Peace On The Golf Course."
"Denied the rights due him under the GI Bill after World War II, Powell was also denied loans by his local banks, all in a time of segregation in which Arfrican-Americans were treated as second-class citizens in their own country.

"In an era when blacks could not stand in line with whites to apply for a job, when the Army was segregated, Powell was reminded of the deep societal differences between England and Scotland, where he had been stationed, and Ohio.

"It hardened his resolve, as Powell said, “I had just left a country where I was treated like a human being, so how was I supposed to be satisfied to be treated like dirt?”

"He borrowed money from two black physicians, one from Canton and one from nearby Massillon, and from his brother, Berry Powell, who mortgaged his home. Bill Powell bought the original 78 acres he had spotted when driving with his wife, Marcella, down Route 30 — one of the earliest east-west access highways in the country — and they went to work. It was in the spring of 1946, and Powell was 29.

"He did much of the heavy work himself, clearing brush, pulling out fence posts and hauling away stones in a wheelbarrow. He seeded the fairways by hand, sometimes helped by [his wife] Marcella, who died in June 1996 after 56 years of marriage."

Powell's success is a true all-American story of never taking no for an answer, of finding another way and of finding a way to prosper no matter what. His work has been recognized by many groups ranging from the Golf Course Superintedent's Association to NASA. In 1992 the Powells were recipients of the National Golf Foundation Jack Nicklaus Golf Family of the Year Award.

Life Father, Like Daughter

Mr. Powell's daughter Renee was the second and only one of only three African-American women to ever compete in the LPGA. The Ohio State graduate joined the ladies tour in 1967, with her first start being in the Women's US Open. Ms. Powell continued to compete on the tour until 1980, when she retired. Afterward, she took up teaching internationally in Africa and Europe.

Today, Ms. Powell is the head pro at Clearview, and has taught on Golf Channel's "Golf Academy Live" as well as the cable channel's "Profiles of a Pro" biographies. In 2003, Ms. Powell received the First Lady of Golf Award from the Professional Golfers' Association in honor of her pioneering career and in 2008, she became the first female golfer to be conferred a Doctor of Laws degree by St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Considering his achievements, and his family's achievements, Bill Powell's life has been one well lived, and recognitions of his accomplishments are not only well-earned but long overdue. Hopefully Mr. Powell has many years remaining to enjoy the fruits of his many successes.

1 comment:

  1. I certainly remember Renee Powell and unfortunately did not know the story of her father.

    Even if that tract of land is abandoned and allowed to overgrow, God knows Bill Powell took 140 of His acres and created something special...


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