Legendary former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi died of colon cancer on Sept. 3, 1970.
A year later, the first Vince Lombardi Memorial Golf Classic was held in Wisconsin with the support of his widow, Marie Lombardi, members of North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls and other civic-minded individuals. The purpose of the Golf Classic was to raise money for cancer research and education in memory of Lombardi.
Over the years, the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation has raised more than $16 million to help fight cancer by funding leading-edge cancer research and compassionate care at the Vince Lombardi Cancer Clinics at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee.
Since its inception, the rock stars of the annual Lombardi Golf Classic have been former Packers quarterback and head coach Bart Starr and his wife, Cherry.
At a recent media day golf outing to promote the charity event, it became readily apparent to me that the Lombardi Golf Classic is preparing strategically for the next generation. Let’s be real without being morbid. Just as surely as the great generation of World War II veterans is passing before our eyes, there will come a day when the ranks of people who had direct relationships with Lombardi will no longer be with us.
If the cause is to survive, a new generation of leaders with a modernized agenda will be needed.
I’m here to report that the transition is well on its way.
Young board members such as Benjamin Haas of Johnson Controls Inc. and Paul Soltwedel, a regional sales manager in the health care industry, have been tapped to lead the golf outing and the foundation into the 21st century with the guidance of current president Gary Nevermann and executive director Judith McGauran.
"We have been blessed to have passionate members of our organization from patients, celebrities, media and especially volunteers that continue to funnel great talent and ideas into the future. We have the pieces in place for another generation of success. We are strategically exploring, cultivating and supplementing new partnership alliances with sponsors for the future," Soltwedel said.
The Lombardi Golf Classic field will be expanded this year to include 34 fivesomes, each featuring a celebrity. Sponsors pay $995 per person to play with the celebrities.
Kicker Mason Crosby has stepped up to be the charity’s leading advocate among current Packers in the locker room.
The foundation is using social media for marketing and a slick new mobile phone application that expedites auction bids.
The Lombardi Golf Classic’s leadership team is identifying new corporate partners and has added other events throughout the year.
"To sustain it we have retained our legends, brought in celebrities from the '70s, '80s, '90s and now to align with the generations of participants and sponsors. We have invested in electronic auction technology and social media. We have moved our Friday Night Gala downtown. We have re-engaged the media. We have listened to our participants," said Haas, who serves as chairman of the Lombardi Golf Classic.
To continue to thrive, perhaps the foundation must embrace the words of the man who inspired the original cause: "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual."
This year’s Lombardi Golf Classic at North Hills will take place June 8.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.