This is not your average fundraiser; not the typical Monday pro-am for a worthy cause that attracts a smattering of tour players and a sponsor or two on an annual basis. This is bigger than that, and deeper. This is personal.
Mike McGee, son of four-time PGA Tour winner Jerry McGee and husband of LPGA Hall of Fame member Annika Sorenstam, grew up with his sister Michelle right behind the high school in East Palestine, Ohio. As a child Mike walked to the football stadium to watch the East Palestine Bulldogs. His mother, a native of the area, taught school there for 20 years, and Jerry was a volunteer basketball coach. Mike learned to play baseball at the parks in town, which led him to become a college baseball player, so the suffering that has befallen the residents of East Palestine after the now infamous train derailment and chemical spill hit Annika and Mike, literally, close to home.
“What happened and continues to happen in East Palestine is a tragedy that makes everyone’s heart hurt,” Sorenstam said. “Mike’s connection to the area brings this suffering right to our doorstep. His first job in high school was at the Lake Club, and my father-in-law was the pro emeritus there after he retired from the Champions Tour.”
That connection and the innate desire to help led Mike and Annika to create “Annika Fore East Palestine,” a fundraising platform designed help the residents of the eastern Ohio region. People who donate online though AnnikaForeEastPalestine.com will contribute to the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, but all the funds will go specifically to the East Palestine community.
Also, on May 15, Annika will host a golf outing at the Lake Club. The event will feature a skills clinic and demonstration by Annika, a golf outing with Annika and friends, as well as brunch, an evening cocktail and hors d'oeuvres reception, and an auction of unique memorabilia and experiences. While more details are yet to be nailed down, professionals and friends of the family and community will certainly be involved.
According to Mike: “We have partnered with a dear friend, Ed Muransky, who played offensive tackle for the Raiders and was on the team that won Super Bowl XVIII. Ed founded the Muransky Companies and operates a number of healthcare facilities in the Youngstown area. He has been a tremendous partner in helping us get this initiative launched. Nobody puts on a better event than Ed.”
“Ed was (Mike’s) first call,” Annika said. “He’s very philanthropic and ran with the idea.”
Mike has also been amazed by the speed with which this effort has come together. “People like Bob Hannon with the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and Chaney Nezbeth, executive director of The Way Station, have rallied to make this happen,” he said. “Under normal circumstances it would take a year to get a fundraising platform and a full-scale initiative off the ground. Because of these partners and everyone’s connections, we’ve done it in a matter of just a few weeks. It just goes to show how much can be accomplished when people commit to a cause, roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
“East Palestine is a close-knit community, and I enjoyed my many visits there over the years,” Annika said. “We even had both of our kids baptized there, and held our receptions at the Lake Club afterwards, so this fundraiser brings us full circle.
“It has been so inspiring to see what the residents of East Palestine have done to help each other during this terrible time. We are anxious to do our part. Annika Fore East Palestine won’t solve all the problems facing these people and this community. But we are committed to doing what we can. It is what neighbors do for each other in times of need.”