In 2008, Buffalo attorney Joe Hanna started Bunkers in Baghdad. It is a not-for-profit charity that collects and sends new and used golf balls, clubs and equipment to troops in 23 countries around the world, with a focus on men and women serving in combat zones. Bunkers in Baghdad also supplies golf equipment to the Wounded Warriors Programs around the country to aid in the rehabilitation of injured veterans.
Since Bunkers in Baghdad started, more than 4,500,000 golf balls and 100,000 golf clubs have been shipped.
Those are impressive numbers and someone who has contributed greatly to the total is Dick Nelson of Jamestown.
Dick Nelson adds to his collection of golf balls for Bunkers in Baghdad.
P-J photo by Jim Riggs
He became involved 3 years ago. He began collecting balls and clubs and also has some pretty impressive totals.
''I'm up over 120,000 balls and 9,000 clubs,'' Nelson said.
About the balls, he pointed out, ''And I scrubbed every one of them!''
The balls and clubs come from everywhere, mainly golf courses and individuals. Sometimes it's as many as hundreds of balls and sometimes only a dozen, but that's fine with Nelson. Every little bit helps.
''This is all due to the generosity of the people in Jamestown and the surrounding areas for being able to donate this type of merchandise for Bunkers in Baghdad,'' Nelson said.
He also spends time picking balls in the ponds at Chautauqua Golf Club when they are drained in the fall. Those are the balls that really need a scrubbing. But first Nelson soaks them in laundry detergent for a couple of days.
''There is nobody I've worked with that is even close to what Dick Nelson has done,'' Hanna said. ''It's a privilege to work with him as often as I do. I'm lucky in that regard.''
Nelson had been battling macular degeneration and earlier this year it was determined he was legally blind and he hasn't driven a car since March. That was a blow for Nelson. He was accustomed to someone calling to say they had some golf balls and he'd say he would drive right over and pick them up.
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But not being able to drive hasn't slowed his collection process. His wife, Donna, and others have been driving him around.
Nelson did note that since he's not driving, ''I have a lot more time in the basement (to scrub balls).''
And with his visual situation, obviously, Nelson is done collecting balls from drained ponds, right?
''My wife leaves me off and I collect all day and then I sit there on a bucket waiting for her to come back,'' Nelson said.
That doesn't surprise Hanna.
''My expectations of him are so high that this doesn't surprise me,'' he said. ''Now it's sort of the norm. I'm not underselling anything that he does, but it's expected of him. If you speak with his wife, if you speak with his kids or anyone related to him, that's the way Dick Nelson is. He's been that way his entire life, so this is no different.''
So it's no surprise that Nelson played in the Bunkers In Baghdad golf tournament in August with his sons. They would place a tee about a foot in front of his ball so he had a target to aim for.
Nelson proudly noted, ''I sunk a 26-foot putt.''
There is something else that happened.
''This year at the golf tournament, to recognize Dick and to honor his extraordinary service to the charity, we named a scholarship after him,'' Hanna said. ''Starting this year, and we presented it already, it's the Dick Nelson Commitment To Service Scholarship. If high school students show similar commitment, dedication to service and helping others, that go above and beyond the everyday calling, they will win the Dick Nelson Commitment To Service Scholarship because he is the model.''
Nelson used to deliver the balls and clubs to the Bunkers in Baghdad storage facility in Grand Island, but now Randy Carlson and Gary Loll have taken over those duties.
''Without them, I wouldn't be able to get the stuff out there,'' Nelson said.
So it appears there's no stopping Nelson and that's fine with Bunkers in Baghdad.
''At the end of the day, there's nobody like Dick Nelson,'' Hanna said. ''He's a veteran, he's a patriot, he's just a good man.''
If you have some golf balls or clubs you would like to donate, give Nelson a call at 664-3691. But let the phone ring for awhile. He'll probably be in the basement scrubbing balls.