Sunday, February 9, 2014

Elks'-Wyandot's "Long Goodbye"- The Saga of a Lost Donald Ross Classic

                                                      Lawrence   Huber

Chapter  7:    The  Inventor

Many  remarkable  characters  played  their  roles  on  the  Elks'-Wyandot  stage  during  its  too-brief  existence.  The  Kaufmans,  Denny  Shute,  Johnny  Florio,  and   others  we  have  yet  to   encounter, are  all  luminaries  who  contributed  to  the  club  and  course.  But  of  all  the  illustrious  personages  encountered  in  researching  the  club's  history,  I  admire  most  the  club's  long-time  greenkeeper  (not  "greenskeeper"  because    the  entire  course  must  be  kept  "green" - not  just  the  18  greens)  Lawrence  Huber.  I  admit  to  bias  on  this  point  as  in  the  course  of  this  project,  I   became  friendly  with  Lawrence  Huber's  son  Jim,  his  daughter-in-law  Betty,  and  grandson  Bill.   But  I  suspect  objective  observers  would   concur  that  Lawrence  Huber  deserves  the  praise  I   heap  on  him  in  this  account.

 He  certainly  overcame  a  tough  start  in  life.   Born  in  1893,  he  was  orphaned  at   age  2.  He  spent  most  of  the  next  fourteen  years  being  cared  for  at  the  "Odd  Fellows'  Home  for  Orphans,  Indigent,  and  the  Aged"  located   in  Springfield-  about  an  hour  west  of   Columbus.  The  "Independent  Order  of  Odd Fellow"  was  founded  in  England,  and  brought  to  America  in  1819.  The  order  dedicated  itself   to  the  proposition  that  "the  strong  support  the  weak,  the  well  nurse  the  sick,  the learned  instruct  the  unlearned,  and  the  rich  help  the  poor."  The  Springfield  home,  opened  in  1898, was  largely  a  self-sufficient  operation  with  its  own  farming  operation  which  provided  the  home  with  fresh  produce,  dairy  products,  and  meat.      

                                  Odd Fellows'  Home,   Springfield,  Ohio

For  many,  their  image  of  a  turn-of-the-century  orphanage  conjures  up  a  bleak  specter   of  a  desultory  poorhouse   where  unfortunate  children  lived  a life  of  hardship  experiencing  little  in  the  way  of  love,  comfort,  education,  or  useful  training.  Indeed,  the  number  of  orphanages   dwindled  in  number  during  the  1900s  as  foster  care  and  other  care  arrangements  surpassed  orphanages   in  public  favor.    Lawrence  Huber  left  the  Odd Fellows'  Home  in  1909  at  age  16  with  the  equivalent  of  an  eighth  grade  education.   But  whether  it  was  in  spite  of  or  because  of   his  residence  there,  he  nevertheless  emerged  with  an   impressive  skill  set.   He  possessed  high  aptitude  for  working  with   motors  and  other  mechanical  devices.  He  had  no  trouble   taking  them  apart  and  putting  them  back  together  again.    While  his  reading  and  writing  abilities  were  not  exemplary  at  this  stage  of  his  life,  he  offset  this   limitation  by  an  uncanny  ability  to  perform  complicated  arithmetic  problems  in  his  head.   He  was  also  a  young  man   who  did  not  shy  away   from   hard  labor.  Lawrence  was   well  aware  that  it  would   take  unstinting  work  on  his  part  to  overcome  his  underprivileged  beginnings.

The  orphanage  arranged  for  his  first  outside  employment  at  a  farm  in  Jackson  County,  Ohio  in  the  foothills  of  Appalachia,  about  an  hour  south  of  Columbus.  The  mechanical  implements  available  to  farmers  were  extremely  rudimentary,  and  farmers  were   often  faced  with  the  task  of  having  to  repair  these  implements  on  their  own  without  instruction  manuals  to  help.  It  is  likely that  the  need  for  trial-and-error  problem-solving  at  the  farm   resulted  in  exceptional  training  for  his   job  at  Elks'-Wyandot.

Always  looking  to  better  himself,  Lawrence  moved  from  the  farm  and  took  a  position  in  Columbus  with  the  Pennsylvania  Railroad.  He  was  employed  there  as  an  "express  messenger."   Typically  Huber  would  ride  the  rails  between  Columbus  and  St.  Louis  (a  route  over  the  portion  of  the  Pennsy's lines  called  the  "Panhandle"),  and  be  gone  from  home  days  at  a  time.    During  his   railroad  days,  Lawrence  met  Eunice  Daugherty  who  lived  on  a  farm  in  Alton,  a  tiny  hamlet  just  west  of  Columbus  on  the  National  Road.   It  seemed   a  good  match  for  sure,  but  Lawrence  was  probably  a  little  hesitant  to  get  hitched  because  his  required  absences  from  Columbus  would  likely  not  be  conducive  to  matrimonial  bliss.

Fate  intervened  when  Lawrence  got  wind  of  the  greenkeeper  opening  at  The  Elks'  Country  Club  in  the  spring  of  1922.  At  first  blush,   it  is  surprising  he  was  considered  for  the  position  since  it  is  doubtful  he   had   stepped  foot  on  a  golf  course.   But  he  had  a  couple   things  going  for  him:  there  were  still  farming  operations  involved  at  The  Elks'-  a  holdover  activity from  the  Higgins'  estate  days.  Lawrence  had  that  base  covered.  Secondly,  he  was   a  young  man  of  28   who  could  grow  with  the  club.  Also,  Elks'  management  presumably  concluded  that  Huber  had  shown  evidence  of  being   a  quick  study  who  could  learn  on  the  job   by  observing   Donald  Ross,  soon  to  be  at  work  laying  out  the  course.

 Lawrence  would  have  eventually  married  Eunice  even  had  The  Elks'  management's  not  told  him  in  no  uncertain  terms   that  the  club   wanted  a  married  man  to  fill  the  post.  But  his desire  to  obtain  the  job  certainly  hurried  the  nuptials  along.  In  short   order  Mr.  and  Mrs.  Lawrence  Huber  occupied  the  frame  house  on  the  property  that  the   club  had  reserved  for  the  greenkeeper.  Eunice  was  very  supportive  of  Lawrence's   career,  accompanying  him  to  various  state  and  national  greenkeeper  association  conclaves.  Eunice  bore  Lawrence  three  children:  Bill,  Jane,  and  Jim.  By  all  accounts,  the  Hubers  were   a  happy  family.  Lawrence  and  Eunice  made  good  friends  with  their  fellow greenkeepers  like  Bridgeview's  Grube  and  Columbus  Country  Club's  Hoover  families.  Marilyn  Gohlke  Strasser  (mother  of  Dan  Strasser-  a several  time  Brookside  Golf   and  Country  Club  champion)  remembers  wonderful  picnics  shared by  the  Gohlke  and  Huber  families.  Many  were  held   at the  Huber  residence  adjacent  to  the  golf  course.  Marilyn's  mother  Lydia  met  Eunice  when  they   worked  together  at  Smith  Hardware  in  downtown  Columbus.  75  years  have  not  dimmed   Marilyn's   fond  memories  of  Lawrence.  "He  was  a  great  man  whom  you  looked  up  to.  He  was   kind  to  all  of  us   kids.  He  was  a  quiet  but   strong  man.  And   he  would  play  the  accordion  at  our  get-togethers  quite  well!  The  Hubers  were  a  very  musical  family. They  were  a  close-knit  family  who  helped  each  other  out.  My  understanding  is  that  there  were  even  a  few occasions  where  Eunice  helped  out  with  the  mowing  of  the  greens  when  Lawrence  was  short-staffed."

                                      Lawrence  and  Eunice  Huber

Lawrence  Huber  had  a  unique  opportunity  to  learn  from  the  best.  He  accompanied  Donald  Ross  when  the  great  architect  staked   The  Elks'  in  1922.   Since  he  was  brand  new  to  the  game  at  that  time,   he  probably  had  no  concept   of   Ross's  importance  in  the  world  of   golf.  Still,  he  was  amazed  how   the  architect,  with  nothing  more  than  a  level  in  his  hand,  could   quickly  and  unerringly  determine  appropriate  tiling  to  enhance  drainage.  Ross  believed  attention  to  drainage  to  be  the  single  most  important  factor  in  golf  course  design  and  maintenance.  Huber  took  this  lesson  to  heart.  Lawrence   also   immersed  himself  in  the details  of   The  Elks'  manual  fairway  sprinkling  system-  a  high-end  investment  for  the  fledgling  club.

 In  1922,  greenkeeping  was  still  a  relatively  new  profession.   Production  of   maintenance  equipment  was  in  its  infancy.  The  best   turf  for  golf  and  methods  for  avoiding  weeds,  topdressing  and  rolling  of  greens,  as  well  as  a  myriad  of   other  aspects  of  maintenance  were  subjects  still  open  for  debate.  To  figure  out  for  himself  the  solutions  to  the  problems  of  his  trade,  Lawrence  voraciously  read  the  greenkeepers'  trade  journal,  "The  National  Greenkeeper," and  became  actively  involved  in  the   National  Association  of  Greenkeepers  of  America  when  it  was  formed  in  1926.  Though  his  formal  scientific  training  at  the  orphanage  was  minimal,  he  habitually  applied  the  "scientific  method"  in  testing  the  efficacy  of   material  applications.  

Renowned  golf  course  architect   Bill  Amick,  who  grew  up  around  the  course  and   knew  the  Huber  family  well.  recalls  one  such  experiment  by  Lawrence.  It  involved  the  circular  and  slightly  hogback  shaped  first  green.  Amick  relates  that, "it  was  not  only  a  green,  but  a  test  plot  for  seven  or  eight  varieties  of  bent grasses.  Those  were  planted  like  pieces  cut  out  of  a  pie.  Lawrence  wanted  to  study  and  compare  how  various  bents  performed  under  actual  course  conditions.  He  told  me  that  one  problem  with  this  test  was  that  changing  cup  locations  took  extra  effort  in  order  to  avoid  the  introduction of  one  kind  of  grass  into  another  piece  of  the  pie. This  would  have  happened  using  the  conventional  method  of  simply  placing  a  plug  of  sod  from  the  new  cup  into  the  old  cup  in  a section  of  different  bent grass."

Lawrence  became  so  enthused  over  his  various  tests  that  he  eventually  began  writing  about  them  in  "The  National  Greenkeeper."   An  example  of  this  was  his  published  letter  discussing  how   he  dealt  with  an  outbreak  of  small  brown  patch.   He  prepared  an  experimental plot  of  10  strips  ten  feet  wide,  and   then  applied  10  different  fertilizers  on  each  individual  strip.   He  found  that  the  best  fertilizer  for  small  brown  patch  to  be  "cotton   seed  meal,  100  pounds  per  5000  square  feet."   For  "large  brown  patch,"  Lawrence  wrote,  "I  top dress  greens  with  good  compost  and  apply  sulphate  of  ammonia,  the  rate  dependent  on  how  hot  the  weather  is."  He  also  reported  to  the  magazine's  readers  that  lighter  rollers  worked  better  on  its  bent-grass  greens  (son  Jim  says  that  his  father  told  him  that  at  the  time  it  was   planted,  The  Elks'  was  the  only  18  hole  course  in  the  United  States  in  which  all  the  greens  were  planted  in "creeping  bent"  grass).  Lawrence's  findings  were   based  on  a  test  over  several  weeks  in  which  lighter  rollers  were  applied  to   the  greens  of  The  Elks'  front  nine  while  simultaneously  using   heavier  rollers  on  the  back-side  greens.  

Top:   an  Elks'  vista  taken  by  Lawrence  Huber
Bottom:  Lawrence  and  helper  mow  a   green
near  the  clubhouse

Huber  even  weighed  in  on  the  subject  of  whether   greenkeepers  should  play  golf.   Though  he  had  trouble  breaking  100,  he  expressed  the  view  that   it  was  a  good  idea  to   play  occasionally   because  the  greenkeeper   could  thereby  "find  out  the  condition  of  the  course  in  the  way  that  regular  members  have  of  finding  out."  Lawrence   recommended  playing  with  the  pro  or  green  committee  members  early  in  the  morning,  as  this  affords  the   greenkeeper  an  opportunity  to  "bring  up  anything  pertaining  to  the  improvement  of  the  course."

Lawrence's  ability  to  conceive  of  and  fabricate  workable  maintenance  machinery  was  astonishing.  Below  is  a  mobile  pump  he   hooked  up  to  a  truck.  He  found  a  way  to  use  a  gasoline-powered  motor  to agitate  pressure-filled  tanks  to  apply  fungicide  to  Elks'-Wyandot's  greens.   When  weed killer  came  into  use  around  1944,  he  used  a  similar  apparatus  at  Brookside  to  spray  the  fairways.  This  eliminated   the  omnipresent  white  milky  dandelions  (often  confused at  a  distance  with  golf  balls)  that  had  previously  plagued   course  maintenance.  

Lawrence's   best  and  most  complex   innovation  was  his  motorized  "spiker,"  used  to  areate  the fairways  and  greens.  

Lawrence  Huber's  experiments  with   technology  were   not  limited  to  golf  course  equipment.  In  1927,  he  assembled  the  forerunner  of  a  television.  His  short-wave receiver  was  able  to  pick  up  a  discernible  silhouette  image   sent   by  a  signal  from   Washington  D.C.  

His  insatiable  thirst  for  knowledge  led  Lawrence   to  enroll  in   agronomy  courses  at  Purdue  University.  Huber's  professional  achievements  led  his  peers  to  name  him  president  of  the  Ohio  Golf  Superintendents  Association  in  1939  (Lawrence  succeeded  in  his  campaign  to  change  the  description  of  the  job  in  the  industry  to  "superintendent"  which  he  felt  better  described  the  job's  comprehensive  administrative  duties).  The  poor  orphan  with  an  8th  grade  education  had  definitely  pulled  himself  up  by  his  bootstraps!  Lawrence  was  proud   that  he  had  come  so  far,  and  thus  was  never  reluctant  to  reveal  his  humble  background.

Lawrence  Huber  served  as  Elks'-Wyandot's  greenkeeper  (or  superintendent  as  he  would  prefer)  from  1922  to  1943.  He  then   left  the  club  and  signed  up  as  an  agronomist  with  the  U.S. Corps  of  Army  Engineers.  The  family  was  afforded  government  housing  in  Columbus,  but  Lawrence  traveled  to  air  bases  in  five  states  to  work  on  landscaping  projects.  According  to  son  Jim,  there  were  two  reasons  Lawrence  left  Wyandot  and  joined  the  Corps  of  Engineers:  (1)  he was  disappointed  that  the  government  had  exempted  him  from  service  during  World  War  I  because  it  did  not  want  to  take  farmers  into  the  service,  and  he  thought  that  joining  the  Corps  during  the  new  conflict would  be  of   service  to  his  country;   and  (2)  he  could  see   the  "handwriting  on  the  wall"  that  Wyandot's  days  as  a  private  club  were  numbered.  In  his  view,  a  private  club's  members  always  helped  the  greenkeeper  care  for  the  course  by  repairing  ball  marks  and  divots.  That  was  not  generally  the  case  with  public golf  courses.  Lawrence  probably  would  have  acknowledged   that  he  was  a  little  spoiled  on  this  point,  but  he  simply  had  no  interest  in   dealing  with  the  headaches  that  go  with  maintaining  a public  facility.     

In  the  course  of  his  service  with  the  Corps  of  Engineers,  Lawrence,    directed   labor  performed  by  German prisoners  of  war.   The officer  in  charge  of  the  prisoners  refused  to  allow  them  sufficient  water  breaks  even  during  broiling  summer  weather.   Huber   registered  complaints   up  the  chain  of  command  seeking  humane  treatment  for  the  prisoners,  but  was  rebuffed. Disenchanted  with  the  officers'  conduct,   Lawrence  and  sought  and  obtained  an  early  exit  from  the  Corps  in  1944.

Lawrence  soon  was  back  in  the  course  superintendent  business,  this  time  with  Brookside  Golf  and  Country  Club  in  Columbus.  Brookside's  course  had  suffered  terribly  in  the  war.  The  bunkers  were  solidly  laden  with  weeds,  and  the  membership  dropped  to  perilously  low  numbers.   Brookside  had  come  close  to  closing  down  completely.  Son  Jim  remembers  that  the  family  moved  into  the  second  floor  of  the  clubhouse  above  the  kitchen.  The  Hubers  had  never  paid  for  housing  since  Lawrence  and  Eunice  had  been  married,  but  the  cramped  living  conditions  convinced  the  couple  that  it  was  time  to  own  their  home.   After  six  months  in  the  clubhouse,  the  Hubers  found  one  to  their  liking  and  moved  to  their  own  residence.

 Brookside  was   in  such  a   precarious financial  position  at  that  time  that  Lawrence  had  to  accomplish  most  of  the  work  without  staff.   Young  Jim,  only  12,   recalls  that  the  Greens  Committee  chairman  Harvey  Bible  offered  him  a  job.   Jim   wound  up  clearing  weeds  at   $1  per  bunker.  Once  Lawrence  saw  that  the  weeds  were  so  thick  that  it  was  taking  the  boy  a   full  day  to  clear  a  single  trap,  he  pulled  him  off  of  that  project.    Under  Lawrence  Huber's  stewardship,   Brookside's  course  was  gradually  brought  back  into   fine  shape.  He  was  gratified  that  the  membership  numbers  picked  up  once  he  turned  the  condition  of  the  property  around.  

After  five  years  at  Brookside,  Lawrence  moved  to  his  last  work  stop  to   the  position  of   Superintendent  at  the  two  Ohio  State  University  golf  courses-  the  "Scarlet"  and  the  "Gray."  Jim  continued  working  with  his  father  in  the  business  until  entering  the  Air  Force.  Another  worker  on  Lawrence's  OSU's  crew  was  the  aforementioned  course  architect  Bill  Amick.   Lawrence   facilitated  Bill's  obtaining  of  a  graduate  position  in  turf  management  at  Purdue  University  that  became  the  springboard  for  Amick's  still-active  career  in  golf.
Lawrence  Huber  (right)  at  O.S.U.
with  its golf  coach  Bob  Kepler,
person  unknown  at  left
Lawrence  aerating at  Ohio  State 
   While Lawrence  was  hopeful  that  his  sons  would  also  become  superintendents.  Jim,  having   witnessed  his  father  habitually  working    seven  days  a  week,  wanted  no  part  of  it.   He  stayed  in  New  Mexico  and  spent  his  career  as   an  air  traffic  controller.   Son  Bill  also  sought  other  business  opportunities.  After  marrying   Betty,   he  spent   his   career  with  the  Columbus  Forge  and  Iron  Company.  He   died  eleven  years  ago.   Betty  still  lives  in  Columbus very  close  to   the  long  gone  golf  course  which   her  father-in-law  maintained  for  21  years. 

I  first  learned  of   Betty  Huber  when  in  the  process  of  a  google  search  for   information  about  The  Elks'  Country  Club,  I  landed  on  Shirley  Hyatt's  excellent  "Clintonville  History"  blog.  Betty  was  listed  as  the  source  for  some  information  and  photos  of  the  course  contained  on  the  blog.   I  contacted  Shirley  to  ascertain  how  to  reach  Betty.   Shirley  responded  that   Betty  had recently  passed  away.   Still,  I  felt  it  could  be  productive  to  contact  Betty's  surviving  members  of  the  family.   I  found  the  obituary  for   "Betty  Huber"  who had  lived  on  the  north  side,  and  called  the  gentleman  listed  as  her  son-  Jack  Huber.  Jack  after  hearing   me  express  condolences   for  his  loss,  and  then   discuss  my  golf research  project,  volunteered  that  he  had  just  played  golf  that  November  day.  After    five  minutes  of  conversation,  he  suddenly  asked  me,  "Where  was  this  golf  course   exactly?"  Something  was  amiss  here!   While  Jack's  mother   was  indeed  named  Betty  Huber,   Lawrence  Huber  was  not  his  grandfather.   It  dawned  on  me  that  there   had  to  be  a  second  Betty  Huber  in  Columbus.   Further  internet  research  paid  off  in   my  finding  her.   This  Betty-  the  same  age  as  the  Betty  who  had  just  died,  was  alive,  well,  and   Lawrence  Huber's  daughter-in-law!   Moreover,   she  possessed  a  treasure  trove  of  pictures,  scorecards,  and   memories  that  are  sprinkled  throughout  this  story.   Betty   has  been  most  patient  and  helpful  with  this  nosy  researcher.

Lawrence's  daughter   Jane  was  actually  the  best  golfer  in  the  Huber  family.  She  became  an  accomplished  singer,   and  she  performed  with  a  prominent  chorale group  in  Atlanta.  Jane  died   too  young  of  ovarian   cancer.  

Lawrence  Huber  died  of  lung  cancer  in  1958  at  age  65   while  still  toiling   as  Ohio  State's  superintendent.  Jim  says  no one  ever   enjoyed  his  job  more  than  his  father.  He  also  says  his  father  was  the  most  honest   man  he  ever  knew.  When  I  asked  Jim  how   Lawrence, with  his  limited  education,   invented  and  innovated  the  way  he  had,  he  responded,  "I don't  know.  It's  amazing  isn't  it!"   

Lawrence  and  Eunice

Acknowledgements:   Betty  Huber,  Jim  Huber,  Bill  Huber, Jr.,  Bill  Amick,  and  Marilyn  Gohlke  Strasser  interviews;  Library  of  Congress  Archives;  Ohio  State  University's  "The  Lantern";  "Golf   Has  Never  Failed  Me"  by  Donald  J. Ross

Next  chapter:  "The  Last  of  the  Wyandots"

No comments:

Post a Comment