As Major Dan Rooney, an Oklahoma Air National Guard F-16 fighter pilot and PGA of America professional, boarded a flight from Chicago to Michigan following his second tour of duty in Iraq, little did he know how great an impact that journey would have on his life.
As the flight landed, the pilot asked all passengers to remain in their seats as the casket of Corporal Brock Bucklin – escorted by his twin brother Brad who had made the 7,000-mile trip to bring his remains home – was removed from the plane. Bucklin was killed in action in Iraq in May 2006.
Watching Bucklin’s brother walking alongside the casket to meet his family, including Corporal Bucklin’s young son Jacob, hit Rooney hard as he thought about his own wife and little girls.
Saddened further by the fact that nearly half of the plane’s passengers disregarded the pilot’s request to wait until the casket had been removed, Rooney was driven not only to pay tribute to members of the American armed forces, but also to serve as a living reminder of the sacrifices U.S. servicemen and women make.
Former PGA of America president Allen Wronowski (now serving a second two-year term as honorary president) was the secretary of the PGA when Rooney first approached the organization to express his desire for Folds of Honor to partner with the PGA. After serving on the foundation’s board for four years as an officer of the PGA, Wronowski was approached by Rooney to discuss the foundation’s growth.
“When Dan spoke about the need to expand the foundation team as the need was growing so fast, I knew this was my calling,” recalls Wronowski, now Director of Golf Development and Relations where he is heavily involved in the group’s fundraising activities. “It’s less than one percent that protect the 99 percent of us and sacrifice so much to protect and defend our freedoms.”
Always focused on its mission of “honoring their sacrifice, educating their legacy,” Folds of Honor provides scholarships to the children and spouses of soldiers who have either been killed or disabled in the line of duty. The foundation does that, in large part, with corporate partnerships. This year, Folds of Honor became the first nonprofit to be included in the title of a NASCAR race at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in Atlanta. The group also works with companies like Budweiser, Outback Steakhouse, Rite Aid, QuikTrip and Jimmy Johns, receiving a portion of sales from products, some of which are specifically branded in support of the foundation.
Golf is central to the fundraising success of the foundation. In addition to relationships with Bushnell and Titleist, the foundation's nationwide flagship fundraiser, Patriot Golf Day, is expected to nearly $6 million dollars this year.
“While Patriot Golf Day started as a Labor Day promotion, we know every day is a great day to be a patriot, so events are now being conducted year round,” Wronowski said. “We also asked that $1 be donated at facilities around the country and that has been added to marathons, raffles, auctions and events. We had over 460 Patriot Golf Day events last year and not only do they raise money but most are a celebration of God and country creating an experience for those that play.”
Tour players and professionals, including Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Nancy Lopez, Gary Woodland, and Jay and Bill Haas, have supported Folds of Honor, with many sporting the foundation’s logo on their clothes and golf bags. Many players also participate in the Patriot Invitational held on Memorial Day weekend at the Patriot Golf Club in Owasso, Okla.
Always relishing ways to keep involved and give back to the game, Wronowski captained his second U.S. PGA Cup team in September. Although the Americans fell to the team from Great Britain and Ireland by just a single point, Wronowski says he was honored to captain the team again – and would be happy to do it every time the competition takes place.
“Getting to know the players and their families and competing in an international competition is incredible,” Wronowski said. “Our team played great and the GB&I team just played a point better. Someone takes the trophy, but the winner in every competition has to be the game of golf.”
For now, Wronowski is happy to turn his attention and focus back to his Folds of Honor duties which provide him nothing but fulfillment and an immense amount of pride.
“Every time I get to spend time with a recipient family ‘fills my cup,’” Wronowski said. “Knowing that not only have we been able to help them with educational possibilities but let them know they are part of the Folds of Honor family and not alone.”