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Each summer, hundreds of charity tournaments are held at Northeast Indiana golf courses, some organized by corporations or organizations and others by individuals. Some have fascinating stories.
In 1975 as a 24-year-old United States Marine, Dick Thornton found out his 21-year-old brother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was the first time he had heard of the disease, but it would not be the last as four months later his mother was diagnosed. Both eventually died from the disease.
When he was told he also had the disease on April 1, 1996, Thornton's knees buckled. He was 42. Now a younger brother has also been diagnosed.
One of Thornton's favorite things was taking 4-year-old grandson Noah fishing. Whenever Thornton's legs were hurting, Noah would lean over and pat them, saying, "There, Grandpa, I fixed them."
Noah and five other grandchildren give Thornton more reason to fight the disease, so he decided to hold a fundraiser. When three bowling tournaments didn't generate enough, he followed his son Justin's suggestion and switched to a golf tournament. He organizes the Dick Thornton MS Golf Tournament by himself, taking a little longer each year due to the progression of the disease.
"It makes me feel good, like I'm doing something constructive rather than sitting at home where only the dog talks to me," he said with a wry grin. "It's something I really enjoy doing. It makes me feel good. I'm not doing this just for myself, I'm doing it for the whole world."
The odd thing is that Thornton, now 61, has never played golf and doesn't particularly care for the sport. He may try to hit a few balls in this year's tournament with the help of an adaptive cart, but first, he said, he has to get a team.
The tournament raises between $2,500 and $3,500 each year, and this year is donating the proceeds to the Anna Yoder MS Fund through the IU School of Medicine at IPFW. The fund was created last year to honor Yoder who died in 1997 shortly before she was to enroll at IPFW. Her mother passed away in 2010 after living with MS for more than 30 years.
Thornton likes that the money will be used locally. He also hopes the association will give the tournament a chance to grow. It's been held at Riverbend, Donald Ross and now at Foster Park with about 80 as the most participants. He's shooting for 100 players this year.
Most of the players are the same every year, just like the hole sponsors and others making donations. Some have children or friends suffering from MS, but most know and like Thornton and want to help him out.
"I have six grandchildren, and I don't want them to have it," he said of the neurological disease. "There are times when I sit at home and cry because I'm so worried about them. I'm going to stick around and do this as long as I can. God gave me MS for a reason, and I figure I better make use of it."