Certainly, a good man’s life can’t be fully summarized in a short obituary, that we all know.
And, yet, when I read of Robert “Bo” Contini’s passing in early November, there was one line in particular, one written by Bo’s older daughter Sue, that resonated, when she said, “Literally hundreds of kids will remember their first job at Hawthorne Hills and the mentoring they received, the work ethic they developed and the financial independence only a 12-year-old can feel with fifty dollars in their pockets.”
In 1955, local sportswriter Bob Spellman defined what he thought a golf pro was in his “Lima Citizen” story announcing Contini’s arrival in Lima to assume co-ownership of Springbrook Golf Course’s golf business along with his brother-in-law Vic Mattevi. ” They’re the doctors, public relations men and policemen of golf. They cure the ailing golfer’s troubles, they promote the game and they teach proper conduct on the court.”
But, of course, Contini over his forty-year career at Springbrook and Hawthorne Hills became so very much more than that after his arrival from Dover, Ohio, a small town less than a 100 miles from Cleveland.
It was in Dover that Contini developed both interest and aptitude in sports as a St. Joseph High School Rambler, lettering in football, basketball and baseball before graduating in 1952. Known then as Bobby, Contini achieved his most success as a fleet halfback, seemingly capable of scoring any time he saw open field. And, it was during his autumnal grid days that, according to his youngest son Steve, he just may have played a role in the invention of an important piece of safety equipment.
“One of my dad’s favorite stories was one he told about his freshman year when he broke his nose playing football. He always said that made his Italian nose even more distinguished! At any rate, the trainer created a makeshift facemask to protect his face and stay on the field. That was in 1948, five years before the Browns’ Otto Graham of the Browns became the first to wear a facemask in the pros.”
Following his St. Joe’s graduation, Contini attended Mount St. Joseph’s, intent on playing baseball, and that’s when he first became exposed to the sport that would become a career. Recalls Steve, “Dad started caddying for the baseball coach, and that’s when he began playing for the first time and, as good athletes often do, he developed pretty quickly.”
He also took up an interest in arranging flowers for a local florist. Recalls Bo’s daughter Sue, “People may be surprised but not only would dad one day use those skills in landscaping on golf courses but he also did all the flower arrangements for all his kids’ weddings.”
After a year at Mount Union, Contini returned to Tuscarawas County, and while continuing to pursue a career as a florist, he also married his high school sweetheart, Eileen Mattevi, who would become his life partner. Contini also found himself playing a lot more golf at a course located between Dover and New Philadelphia with Eileen’s brother, Vic, who was ten years Bo’s senior.
At this time, for the brothers-in-law, golf was still a hobby, that is, until Vic moved to Lima and heard of an opportunity to buy the golf business at Springbrook Golf Course, a fixture in Lima since it opened in 1942.
Recalls Bo’s younger daughter Noreen, “My grandparents actually took a second mortgage on their home, so Dad could partner with Uncle Vic to buy the business. If the venture failed, my grandparents could have lost their home.”
During the Springbrook years from 1955 to 1963, the work was demanding. During weekdays, one would run the pro shop while the other would be out on the course tending to the grounds and overseeing play, and the next day the roles were reversed. On weekends, when play was heaviest, both worked the pro shop.
Vic and Bo soon learned what other local pros like Ray LaGoy, Junior, at Lost Creek and Bob Holtsberry at Westview came to learn, that being a golf pro was, during the season, a job that requires double-digit hours, seven days a week. Contini and Mattevi also soon realized the special challenges of public courses, especially when it came to beginning golfers who played slowly and often didn’t replace divots and rake sand traps.
And, as Noreen recalls, the living accommodations weren’t all that commodious but, perhaps more a validation of the lyrics of the old Beatles’ song, “All you need is love.”
“We lived on top of the clubhouse in a one-bedroom apartment- Mom and Dad, my sister Sue, my brothers Rob and Rick and me. Looking back, I have no idea how we did it in such a tiny space.”
By 1961, Bo and Eileen had saved enough money to build a house just down the road from Springbrook, just in time to welcome their fifth child, Steve.
Less than two years down the road, there was another golf course in the works, a 27-hole public course named Hawthorne Hills. Located off Fetter Road, it was the brainchild of area insurance man John Dugan, who both designed the course and oversaw its construction. Of course, Dugan would need someone with whom to partner to serve as pro and run the day-to-day.
By November of 1962, Dugan had made his choice for the course scheduled to open in May of 1963, the 29-year-old Contini, who local sportswriter Ed Plaisted described as someone who routinely shot in the low 70s and also had a keen interest in helping the beginning golfers, especially young people.
When Dugan was asked why Contini stuck out from the 27 other applicants, he said, “I believe my choice will be not only the best liked but the best promoter of golf.”
Dugan’s selection turned out to be everything he could have possibly imagined, and Hawthorne grew to become one of the top five public courses in the state. As for promotion, Dugan and Contini developed an idea to bring in top pros for exhibitions, notably Jack Nicklaus in 1966 and Lee Trevino in 1970. The course was also the site of many local and regional tournaments and countless outings.
Contini, despite the amount of energy expended in running the golf course and teaching the game and mentoring dozens and dozens of young kids he hired, however, never forgot his duties as a family man.
Recalls Bo’s son Rick, “I think the most valuable lesson that Dad taught all of us, one we carried into our adulthood with our own kids, is that there is never an excuse not to put family first. He was at every school event in which we were involved.”
Adds Noreen, “He did a terrific job welcoming our friends into our home, really, an open door to all, and he also made us feel a part of the golf course as well. The course was, in a way, kind of like our babysitter, but, of course, he was there too.”
While many in the Lima area will recall Bo’s teaching the game of golf in those five-minute features on TV-35 entitled “Golf Talk with Bo Contini,” most of the teaching was far away from cameras, especially with the youth, some of whom would go on to become PGA golf teaching pros themselves, such as Bo’s oldest son Rob, his nephew Ron Contini and current Shawnee club pro, Steve Mulcahy.
Bo’s work with young golfers was aided greatly when his son Rob came aboard in 1973. Rob remained as Bo’s assistant, and once Bo retired in 1995, Rob assumed the position as head pro.
During the 1960s Bo developed a strong relationship with LCC’s principal Monsignor Edward C. Herr, a friendship that would endure all the way to the the good monsignor’s passing in 1986 and Contini donated both time and funds to help with various school projects, especially, in the mid-1970s, with the school’s development of practice fields, ball diamonds, a track and tennis courts in what was described by some as a former mud hole behind the school.
Contini also demonstrated his philanthropy by helping many other organizations, among them CIAO, St. Rita’s and the Knights of Columbus.
While he earned many achievements over time, perhaps the one that may have meant the most was one he would share with his son, Rob, as both were inducted into the Allen County Golf Hall of Fame.
In Bo’s early retirement years, it was discovered that, over time, damage was done to his kidneys, a condition his son Steve suspects may have been caused so many years before, in the 1950s, while spraying insecticides without, in those less-enlightened times, any special safety precautions. When a transplant was needed, it was his youngest son, Steve, who stepped up to give a kidney to the man he felt had given him so much.
While his final years before his passing were challenging health-wise, that’s not the Bo Contini so many remember. Instead, they’ll remember the consummate golf pro, who taught the game he discovered caddying as an aspiring collegiate baseball player, for four decades. And, they’ll remember the loving family man, the philanthropist and, recalling the feeling of those fifty dollars in the pockets of so many youngsters working their first job for the man they knew as “Mr. C., they’ll remember him as fine an advocate for kids as you’re likely find.
John Dugan’s youngest son Pat, who very well remembers the photo snapped so long ago of Bo shaking his hand after the child’s version of Pat got his first hole-in-one, upon hearing of Bo Contini’s passing, perhaps said it best. “The world, and especially the world of golf, has lost a true gentleman in Bo, and the Dugan family will forever be indebted to the best of partners and, more importantly, the best of men.”