Coming Full Circle: The Alabama Golf Course Superintendents Association’s Donnie Arthur Tournament Partners with Children’s of Alabama in the 2016 Bone Marrow Recipient Reunion
by Melanie Bonds, Executive Director, Alabama GCSA
In 1992 the Alabama GCSA, a professional organization of golf course superintendents and others in the golf industry, decided they wanted to “give something back.” They established the Donnie Arthur Memorial Golf Tournament, named after a founder of the Association and a big man in the memory of those who knew him.
James Donnie Arthur was planning to go to law school when he started working summers at Point Mallard Golf Course in Decatur, Alabama. The summer job lasted over twenty-one years, and during that time Donnie insured excellent playing conditions for his course. He loved to see his course filled with players because he loved the game of golf. Donnie, like most golfers, never had time enough to play as much as he would have liked. “There is no way to do all the things that need to be done on the course in 40 hours,” he said. “We have to get out and get ahead of the golfers. I try to play golf early in the spring and in the late summer. That’s about the only time I get to play. There is too much to do the rest of the time.”
Much of Donnie’s time in the final years of his life was spent fighting the disease that eventually killed him. Arthur was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1978 and battled it for 15 years. He underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant—one of the earliest performed in Alabama. He once said, “If you think that illness is going to get the best of you, it will. But if you look at it as a minor setback and a challenge, it’s something you can try to excel at.” Donnie carried this attitude into his life and his work as a golf course superintendent.
James Donnie Arthur left a profound legacy to his profession and the success of his memorial tournament is undisputed. Carried on in his name by the members of the AGCSA, the tournament has donated over $200,000 since 2001 to scholarship, Turfgrass research and, in an effort to “give back,” to the American Cancer Society, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Alabama.
Not only donating money, members of the AGCSA wanted to reach out in a more personal way to the patients at Children’s, the state’s only freestanding pediatric medical facility. Volunteers worked closely with personnel at the hospital to set up putting greens as an activity for the patients on two occasions. In the spring of 2016 we were invited to partner with Children’s in its Bone Marrow Recipient Reunion and Marrow Drive held on August 30 and 31st.
Caption: Above, volunteers Larry Arnold (Highland Park Golf Course) and Jason Gattina (Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation) coach on the rudiments of putting.
Sixteen-year-old Frances Grace Hirs of Fairhope was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in August 2003. Her cancer returned twice, and she underwent a bone marrow transplant in 2013. She met her bone marrow donor, Bryan Schneider, 33, of New Braunfels, Texas, for the first time on August 30th.
Bone marrow transplants are used as life-saving treatment for deadly cancers and blood disorders including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease. Patients who do not have a related donor rely on donors from around the world who have been identified through the Be the Match Registry.
Above photo from Bone Marrow Recipient and Donor reunion with representatives from the Alabama GCSA (standing l-r) Bryan Scroggins, Kyle Johnson, Jason Gattina, Larry Arnold, Melanie Bonds, and Jeremy Arthur. Also standing, Gracie’s father, Allen Hirs.
Seated, l-r, Debbie Schneider and Bryan Schneider, donor with Gracie Hirs and her mom, Chasity.
The donor meeting and marrow registry drive are part of Children’s of Alabama’s commemoration of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Needless to say the reunion was an emotional event for those present. Donnie Arthur’s son, Jeremy, was present and perhaps summed it up best!
As I entered the 8th grade, my Dad began a journey as one of the first bone marrow transplant recipients. The transplant, at that time, was experimental and came at the recommendation of his team of physicians at UAB. Fast forward to today... This week, I was honored to attend the Bone Marrow Donor/Recipient meeting to see Gracie (the recipient) meet Bryan (the donor) for the first time. Words cannot express the true blessing I received from this experience. The selfless act of a stranger (through Be The Match) saved the life of a little girl from Alabama whose cancer had reared its ugly head twice since her original diagnosis.
I'm proud of and thankful my Dad was willing to contribute to the research and help pave the way for future bone marrow transplant recipients. I think it didn't truly come "full circle" for me until today. Cancer research continues, and will continue, until we find a cure. I'm blessed my Dad never gave up, fought the battle five times, and continued to remain positive and as a role model until the end.
As I got to hug Gracie, and her parents, shake Bryan's hand, talk to the team of doctors, nurses and caregivers that accompanied them on their journey, I know the struggle is real, the fight is real, and the hope is real.
I saw a little piece of my Dad in both Gracie and Bryan. I know a part of Donnie Arthur was right there with me, then, now, and always.
The Alabama Chapter was grateful to be a part of this event. Many thanks to Emily Hornak, Sharon Likos and Stephanie Moore of Children’s of Alabama for including us. In an additional blessing that grew from our participation, three of our members signed up to be on the Bone Marrow Registry. That is such a selfless act and one that possibly may save a life one day, just as Bryan saved Gracie’s. Hats off to Kyle Johnson, Inverness Country Club, Jason Gattina, Jerry Pate Turf and Irrigation and Bryan Scroggins, Residex.
Jason Gattina and Kyle Johnson sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry