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Chapter 7: Memories

By the time a program has reached its 75-year mark, a lot of memories have accumulated. Hundreds of stories lie behind the history of Penn State’s turfgrass program—some humorous, some heart-warming, some inspiring. Each reveals in a special way the personal relationships formed through the turfgrass program and the individuals who made the program what it is today. Here are just a few:

Joe Duich and Richie Valentine on “Old Bill” Lyons

Joe Duich: Old Bill Lyons, a Penn State turfgrass alum, was superintendent of Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. He also built his own golf course and called it the Lyons Den. In the 1950s he started going to turf conferences at Penn State. Bill would always get a suite at the Nittany Lion Inn and bring Amish-made cheese and sausage from Ohio. He invited people to his room—students included—and you always knew that Bill’s room was the place to be after the conference sessions. For an undergrad, it was a place to get some food and some beer and get in on some serious discussions, too. Those sessions were the best part of the conferences. There were a few times when we didn't go to bed at all!

Richie Valentine: Evening gatherings at the conferences were when we really got into what was going on in the business. These guys were searching out education, and they didn’t have any other source. Old Bill Lyons never missed it. He’d ask so many questions—he’d ask Duich or Musser a question, and everybody would laugh or groan and say, ‘Oh no, not again.’ It was educational and it was all in good fun.

Richie Valentine on Joseph Valentine and the early days of the Merion Golf Club

I remember when I was a kid at Merion, my dad was trying to help the sons of some of the workers he'd hired—give them a chance to make some money. So these young immigrant workers would line up and go across the course with a coffee can and a knife, cutting out weeds. We used to play a game with a pen knife called “mumbledy peg.” So these guys would cut a few weeds out, then play mumbledy peg with me. And I used to be the lookout, making sure we didn’t get caught. My father got wise to it after a while. He’d look at what they had in their coffee cans and say, “You guys haven’t dug out much grass lately. This grass was dug out about four hours ago.” He could tell. He was a tough guy that way. He’d say, “If you guys don’t want to work, maybe I’ll can everybody and get some old-timers in here who want to make money and who don’t play mumbledy peg.”

Richie Valentine on Eb Steiniger

When I was a kid I’d go with my dad to turfgrass meetings at the State College Hotel. Sometimes Eb Steiniger would come over from Pine Valley and go with us. One time, before the days of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there was a hell of a storm. Eb came to our house, and my mom said, “You’re not going up there. You'll get stranded.” So Eb stayed overnight. I was sitting on the floor, listening to my dad and Eb talk, and I was looking at Eb’s argyle socks and I sort of stroked them a little. They were the rage way back, and Eb’s wife would knit them for him. Well, my mom cooked us a great dinner, and we had a great time, and they said, “We don’t even want to go to Penn State. We’ll stay here.” But the next morning it cleared up and we went. It took us five hours to get there. Do you know, twenty years went by, and one Christmas Eb’s wife gave me two pairs of handmade argyle socks!

Jack Harper on Burt Musser

Burt Musser was known to be a talker. He’d get kidded about it. At one of the golf turf conferences at the State College Hotel, he was on the program, scheduled to talk about ways to be successful in turfgrass management. When it was Burt’s time to speak, the moderator said, “Now Burt, try to keep it concise.” So Burt got up, said, “Drainage, drainage, drainage,” and sat down. Everybody looked around—what the hell was that? The moderator said, “Don’t you want to elaborate a little?” So Burt got up again and said, “I’m serious. You have air drainage, surface drainage, and subsurface drainage. If you have those three things, you’re good to go.” Of course, then he launched into a two-hour speech!

John Pollok (two-year class of 1987) on the First Annual Duff Shaw Classic

On October 17, 1985, at about 11 p.m., I was studying in my dorm room at Penn State with my door open. Duff Shaw walked by on his way back from the library. He stopped, introduced himself, and invited me to his room for a beverage of my choice. By the time I finally made it back to my room around 4 a.m., a friendship had been forged.

After graduation, Duff and I went our separate ways, but three years after graduation, we found ourselves living just twenty minutes away from each other. Duff and I spent a lot of time together, becoming like brothers.

When I walked into his hospital room on October 10, 1992, and saw Duff lying in bed, I knew it was more serious than the back problem that was previously diagnosed. I knew then that I wanted to do something to help his situation. It took a while for the idea to form: We could have a golf tournament to raise money and help out with medical expenses. Better yet, we could set up a fund not only to help Duff, but to give something back to the golf industry that has been so good to both Duff and me.

After the idea was cleared through all the proper channels, a four-man scramble was set up for December 14 at North Ranch. A committee was put together, ideas were passed around, and $10,000 to $15,000 was our target figure. Having all 27 holes to use for the tournament, we estimated that 200 golfers would be an excellent turnout.

A letter was sent out with an entry form and a letter explaining the situation and format. The response was overwhelming. Two weeks before the event we had 220 golfers signed up, with 27 holes, no problem, but entry forms continued to come in. So I thought, What if we play 5-somes or even 6-somes? We didn’t have enough golf carts, so people volunteered to walk. I began to realize that people didn’t care about the golf, or even if they had to walk the course, or eat a turkey or ham sandwich. People were coming out to help a family member—a member of the golf industry.

When Monday, December 14, came around, it was miraculous. More than 300 golfers showed up, 32 extra carts were delivered, 320 box lunches and 60 tee signs were handmade, and six vehicles were sponsored for hole-in-one prizes. For many of us, 8-somes were played for the first time that day.

At sunset, the golfers started turning in their score cards. Speeches and presentations were made, and no one cared who won or lost the tournament. Everyone who had anything to do with the Duff Shaw Classic was a winner. The tournament raised more than $32,000. I have never been prouder to be a golf course superintendent than I was on December 14, 1992.

Frank Dobie (two-year class of 1960) on the two-year technical course

As a young person thinking about a career, I had decided on mechanical engineering. A friend told me about this new turfgrass program at Penn State that he was going to go to, and it was kind of intriguing. I'd always loved working on a golf course and hated to be inside. I thought about it and talked to a greenskeeper in Cleveland, and he told me it's the kind of business that you will either love or hate. I figured I could always try it. It was quite an experience. The two-year students lived in the old army barracks, and nobody had any money. We pooled our money to go out and get coffee. There were seventeen of us, and our ages ranged from 18 to 49. There was an immediate bond. We would stay up all hours of the night talking about where we came from and our golf courses. I knew within the first week that this was what I wanted to do. The faculty played a big part in my decision as well. Professor Musser’s last year to teach was 1958-59, and 1959-60 was Dr. Duich's first year in charge of the program. So I managed to get the best of the old and the best of the new.

Stan Zontek on Joseph Duich

I was working on the turf plots in the summer of 1970. I was grubby and sweaty, and Dr. Duich came up to me, pointed to a patch of grass, and said, “What's that over there?” I said, “That's Canadian bluegrass.” He pointed to another spot and asked me to identify the grass. I did so correctly.

Later that day, Dr. Duich asked me, “Do you drink beer?” I replied, “Yes sir, I do.” He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s go out to Hi-Way Pizza—it's ten cents a slice—and let’s have pizza and beer for lunch.” So that's what we did, and our relationship started to change after that day. I’ll always remember that.

Pat Duich on Joseph Duich

Joe was a senior and I was a freshman at Penn State in the fall of 1951. The frat men would check out the freshmen coeds at the beginning of the school year, and one day he asked me out for coffee. I said, “I’m not allowed out on weeknights.” He said, “You're not at home now.” So we got into the habit of going out for coffee. We never had much time—we would meet a little before 9 and I had to be in for curfew at 9:15!

Jerry Murphy (two-year class of 1961) on Fred Snyder

I grew up during the Depression and the war. My dad had saved some money for me to go to college, but I didn’t want to go. I went out and bought a new boat and fishing tackle instead. A year later, I said to my dad, “You know, Dad, I want to go to school after all.” He said, “Well, you’re on your own, kid. I had the money but I don’t now.” So I went to Penn State on a prayer. I had enough money for a loaf of bread, a can of Spam, and a quart of milk each week. That’s why I ended up in the hospital.

Partway through the year I came down with the grippe, which is caused by malnutrition. It almost looks like malaria—you get the shakes. Dr. Snyder (director of the two-year program) was very active in his students’ lives, and when he found out I was in the hospital he came to visit me. When I got discharged, he told me he had some work that needed to be done at his home, and would I come over on a Saturday. He picked me up on a Saturday morning, took me out for breakfast, took me to his house, and there's this huge pile of wood he wanted stacked in the barn. So I spent a good part of the morning stacking all this wood. We had lunch, and Dr. Snyder took me back to campus and paid me for doing the work. The next weekend he came back around and said, “I have some more wood that needs to be stacked.” This happened three weekends in a row! By the third weekend I could almost name each piece of wood. I finally realized that Dr. Snyder was throwing the wood out during the week so that he could have me come out, pay for my meals, and pay me to do the work. He was helping me get through without feeling like I was a charity case. That was Dr. Snyder. One of the reasons that the Penn State program is so successful is that the instructors take a personal interest in the students, and they always have. And that’s why alumni keep coming back to meetings—because they feel part of the group.

Jerry Murphy on Joseph Duich

One reason why Joe Duich was such a good teacher was that he never answered a question. He’d challenge you to think about it. More often than not, you knew the answer or were close, and you could direct your thinking to get to the answer. You'd ask him a question and he’d say, “Well, what do you think?” And of course you never realized what he was doing because he was so tactful in doing it. Forty-two years later I still use the thought processes he taught me. I get a question in my mind and I say, “What do I think about it, what do I know about it, and where can I find out more about it?”

Charles Wian on Penneagle Bentgrass and Valentine Center

When I was working for Dr. Duich at the turf plots, I had a pickup with a cap on the back. “Eagle” was the brand name. I remember Dr. Duich went out to the parking lot one day, and he came back and said, “I just got an idea. That new bentgrass I’m working on, I’m going to name it ‘Eagle.’“

Dr. Duich was very demanding and expected you to do your best. Then he treated you well. That was his work standard. There was no down time—when I started, he even frowned on coffee breaks. But there was a lot of freedom at the Valentine Center, and we worked in coffee breaks when we could. In the greenhouse, we planted such small seedlings—it was just one little blade of grass, half an inch long. Merrill Moore, the technician who worked with me, would say, “Now I know why I need glasses!”

Dave Livingston (two-year class of 1992) on the two-year course

My father was a superintendent and I was assistant superintendent at the Nemacolin Woodlands golf course. My dad sent me up to Penn State to get pesticide credits at the field days. I saw the Valentine Research Center and said, “Wow.” And I decided I wanted to take the two-year course. It was quite an experience, let me tell you. After the first week I called home and told my wife, “I have to learn Latin names of these trees and shrubs and grasses. I don’t know if I can do it!” I was second oldest in the class—I was 40. The first semester, all the young guys were making fun of us old guys, but after we got the grades we started getting a little respect.