When Ken Heltemes moved to Raleigh from Ohio in 1987 to start a new Barefoot Grass Lawn Service franchise, he didn’t know much about turfgrass.
That changed when he crossed paths with Dr. Art Bruneau.
“In my first year I really didn’t know anything about turfgrass,” Heltemes says. “I didn’t even know there were four types of turfgrass in North Carolina.
“One day I was just distraught, and I discovered the university’s turfgrass research facility,” he adds. “So I pulled into the parking lot, and right there in front of me were all the turf types. I knew I was in the right place.”
Heltemes was directed to Bruneau, professor emeritus of crop science and retired Cooperative Extension specialist.
“He was nice enough to come out into the field with me,” Heltemes says. “I had no idea what was wrong with this particular lawn, and Art said it looked like there had been an application error. He came out a few more times that year to help us and again the following year, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
Unaware of the impact he’d made, Bruneau says he was just doing his job. “I was in Cooperative Extension, and that’s what we’re there for,” he says. “We get a lot of joy out of helping others. I just did what anyone else in the turfgrass program would have done.”
Many years later, when Heltemes received an email from the Center for Turfgrass Environmental Research and Education (CENTERE) about the inaugural Dr. Art Bruneau Golf Tournament Scholarship Fundraiser, he knew immediately that he wanted to be involved.
“There was an auction to play a round of golf with Art, so I bid $1,000 and won,” he says.
Heltemes has been a sponsor of the tournament ever since. He sold his Barefoot Grass Lawn Service in the late 90s and now is the franchisor for 12 successful Weed Man franchises in North Carolina and Georgia. He says it makes perfect sense to give back.
“It’s just wonderful how Ken has supported our program through this tournament,” Bruneau says. In its five-year history, the tournament has raised a total of $40,500 in scholarship awards.
The idea for the tournament came to life during a staff meeting five years ago, says Jenifer Jordan, CENTERE web applications engineer and marketing specialist, who serves as the tournament’s co-director along with crop science lecturer Emily Erickson.
“We realized that Dr. Bruneau was about to retire after nearly 30 years of service, and we wanted to do something to recognize him,” Jordan says. “Someone suggested a scholarship fund-raiser, and we thought it was a great idea because Art was so active with the students.”
The first tournament was such a success that it quickly became an annual event.
“It’s like a big family reunion where we get all of our friends and alumni and industry partners together with our students and faculty,” Jordan says. “It’s also a great opportunity for our students to meet people who’ve been through the program and to see what they’re doing now in industry.”
The fifth tournament, held this past September at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, boasted a full field of 96 golfers and raised more than $11,000 for student scholarships. Weed Man was the lead sponsor of the 2013 tournament, as well as the sponsor of the “King Putt Contest,” which offered a $10,000 cash prize to be split between the winning golfer and turfgrass scholarships. Other top 2013 tournament sponsors include Parks Chevrolet, which provided three trucks and a Camaro as hole-in-one prizes; BASF; the Carolinas Golf Course Superintendents Association; QualiPro and Smith Turf and Irrigation.
“I worked my way through school, and by the time I got to that last year, I was so broke and so tired,” Heltemes says. “I got a scholarship and I’ll never forget that. So by giving a little bit through the tournament, it’s nice to know I’m helping somebody.”
Bruneau, who now teaches a PGA-certified turfgrass management course in the N.C. State College of Natural Resources, says, “We’re so grateful for Ken’s support. He’s made a real difference in the lives of our students.
“I’m just honored and blessed and blown away by the fact that my name is associated with this tournament,” Bruneau adds. “It’s a wonderful cause.”
If you’d like to tee up with Heltemes and Bruneau at the 2014 tournament, mark your calendar for Sept. 24, and keep an eye on www.turffiles.ncsu.edu.
— Suzanne Stanard