When I heard what Matt Henkel was doing, I said to myself, “That would make a great story.” But I wasn’t sure how to tell it. Henkel, you see, wasn’t trying to draw attention to what he was doing.
I first met Henkel, the golf course superintendent of PrairieView Golf Club in Byron, Illinois, in 2009 at Bethpage Black Golf Course in Farmingdale, New York, during the U.S. Open. Henkel, who was the assistant superintendent of PrairieView at the time, was my roommate at the Farmingdale State College dormitory, where the U.S. Open volunteers stayed during the tournament.
Henkel and I crammed into a small room with even smaller beds. We got to know each other well during the week.
The first thing I learned about Henkel was that he was a nice guy. The people staying in the dorm were supposed to bring their own blankets for the beds. I forgot mine. Henkel, who brought two blankets, gave one to me.
I learned other things about Henkel — he was 30 years old, married, with two young children. Then he told me he was a cancer survivor.
Only a year before, Henkel had watched the U.S. Open from a hospital bed while undergoing presurgical tests for a brain tumor. The tumor was removed two months later in August. Talk about a zest for life — here Henkel was less than a year after major surgery volunteering on the Bethpage course maintenance crew for one of the greatest golf tournaments of the year.
Henkel, now 36, also told me how blessed he felt to receive so much support while he was recuperating. He mentioned how touched he was to receive a $7,000 donation from the Wee One Foundation, a charitable organization founded on behalf of Wayne Otto, the popular Wisconsin superintendent who died of cancer in 2004. The Wee One Foundation assists golf course management professionals (or their dependents) who incur overwhelming expenses because of medical hardship.
Back to the great story I mentioned earlier. I bumped into Henkel recently, and we exchanged man hugs. We hadn’t each other since Bethpage. Henkel told me his brain tumor had returned a few years before, which required more surgery and 33 rounds of radiation treatments, but now he has a clean bill of health.
Then Henkel told me he was going to do something he had been meaning to do: hold his own tournament at PrairieView to benefit the Wee One Foundation. He said it was time for him to give back.
Henkel said he’d never forget the Wee One Foundation for helping him and his family during a very difficult time. Because he had been there and received assistance from the Wee One Foundation staging the tournament meant that much more to him.
Henkel told me about the event, which was held in August, because he was trying to draw up support for the Wee One Foundation, not because he thought it would make a cool story.
But it does, and Henkel deserves a big hand for giving back to others. The tournament raised about $6,000 for the Wee One Foundation.
The good book says it’s better to give than to receive. Henkel, a man with tremendous faith, knows that. I found out that about Henkel five years ago. I have a blanket to prove it.
Superintendent’s Editorial Director Lawrence Aylward can be reached at 330-723-2136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.