Jack Palmer column, 8-02-12: Free golf clinic was Sal Hench's stroke of genius

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Sal Hench died two years ago, but her remarkable legacy lives in Defiance and elsewhere.

A prime example is the Sal Hench Memorial Community Golf Day program slated for Saturday at Eagle Rock Golf Club.

The free instructional clinic is part of the schedule of events leading up to the Ohio Women's Open on Monday and Tuesday.

"She was involved in the Ohio Women's Open in Defiance from its inception," Mark Hench said about his mother. "She wanted to make it different from other tournaments by involving the community along with the incoming golf professionals."

The program provides free golf lessons from guest professionals on Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Eagle Rock Golf Club. It is open to members of the public regardless of age or ability level. People can still reserve a spot by calling the Eagle Rock Pro Shop at 419-785-4423.

"Sal felt that this was a great way for members of the public to come and meet the professionals, while also receiving free golf instruction," said Martha Mallott, Eagle Rock's head pro. "She figured once they met the pros at this clinic or at the pro-am event on Sunday, they would come out and support them on Monday and Tuesday. She loved the Ohio Women's Open and the concept of women golf professionals coming to Defiance."

Mallott has a lasting place in her heart for Hench, whom she considered a mentor and a friend.

"I truly looked up to Sal as a golfer, as a mother and as a person. I played sports at DHS with her daughter, Karla. Sal was very competitive in everything she did and she always wanted to win."

Hench was a native of Latty and an alumna of Paulding High School. After graduation, she was a starting pitcher on the Fort Wayne Daisies all-female fastpitch softball team and worked as a secretary at Grizzley's in Paulding. She and her husband, Ted, later became founding partners of Chief Super Markets, Inc.

"Mom was very proud of her Paulding County roots," said Mark. "That's how Chief got to be in Paulding. It became only the third Chief store, right after Defiance and Napoleon."

Throughout her lifetime of nearly 85 years, Hench exuded a real passion for people and sports. She was an avid golfer and captured the Defiance city championship several times.

"Growing up, she was a mother first," said Mark. "She never really played as much as she should have, given her ability. We never went to the country club much as kids, but I knew she was an excellent golfer from all the trophies she brought home."

Her love for softball was shown through her sponsorship of the Sal Hench Softball Field at Defiance College and the creation of the Karla M. Hench Softball Training Room at University of Michigan.

Many fall Saturday afternoons she could be found watching Purdue, Notre Dame and UM football games.

"If Michigan played Notre Dame, she rooted for Michigan," said Mark. "That was her absolute favorite team."

In addition to her visionary work with the Ohio Women's Open, Hench was a community leader and philanthropist with Defiance Regional Hospital Foundation, Holy Cross Catholic School, St. John Catholic Church, Defiance College, Community Pregnancy Centers of Northwest Ohio, Defiance Area YMCA, Paulding Skate Park at LaFountain Park, the Gene Smart Center and many other charitable organizations.

She was the recipient of the Defiance Chamber of Commerce's Mike Schultz Leadership Award and an honorary doctorate from the Defiance College.

"The last time she played golf was in the Ohio Women's Open pro-am two years ago," said Mark. "She golfed all 18 holes that day."

Sal Hench will be back on the first tee this weekend -- in spirit.

Those who knew her well will surely be able to see that big smile.

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