It has been five years since Eblen Charities co-founder Joe Eblen passed away at the age of 87. So as we once again take to the Cliffs at Walnut Cove for the fifth time without him for the new Wicked Weed / Brad Johnson Celebrity Golf Classic.
But it is always during this week, that all of us at Eblen look back on how all of the work of the Eblen Foundation and now the Eblen Charities began and how the hundreds of thousands of families whose lives we have been fortunate to touch all came about thanks in part of the challenge and fascination of putting a little white ball into a hole in the ground.
And this is where it all began, even before our initial yard sale that brought us the $400 that began our outreach, as it was the first two Eblen Cystic Fibrosis Golf Classics that set us on this unbelievable journey. But golf was just the vehicle that put us on this path. It was the courage, vision, and love for our community of Joe Eblen, Milo Garren, Joe Ward, Harry Giezentanner, Jamie Blue, Guy Roberts and a small group of others that took an idea for a small fundraiser in May of 1990 that has become an organization that brings so many together to reach out to so many who cannot find help elsewhere in their times of need.
How this all began was simple enough. It began with a casual question to Milo Garren about putting on a golf tournament. I thought we would talk about the idea for a few months and then maybe get a committee together to see about getting started. But Milo picked up the phone and started calling his friends and golfing buddies and within the week we were meeting about the tournament.
After a few weeks, we met with a local golf pro who listened to our idea, and after a moment of thought suggested that we abandon our idea. He told us that there were too many tournaments around (at that time, I think there was around twenty) and that we had no idea what we were doing (which was probably true), but we decided to forge ahead regardless of the sage advice we had received.
To make our tournament different from those already established, we thought of making it a celebrity tournament, with the only draw back being no one on the committee knew any celebrities that we could invite. A hopeful call to former world heavyweight wrestling champion Rick Steamboat, answered by another former world champions Abe Jacobs and George Scott brought in our early celebrities which included Roman Gabriel, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Alvin Dark, Gil Coan, and numerous others local and national celebrities.In looking for a sponsor the committee paid a visit to local businessman and community leader, Joe Eblen, owner and president of the Biltmore Oil Company, who graciously agreed to sponsor the event and the rest, as they say, is history.
I am certain that in those early days of 1990, none of those involved in putting together this first tournament had an inkling of what was to lay in store for our community because of it. We all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to these early “pioneers” on the Eblen Golf Committee who decided not to follow conventional wisdom in creating another golf tournament in what was considered to be an already crowded field. What has grown from it has been no less than remarkable and the lives that the work that was spawned from, has touched countless lives and has allowed so many children, adults, and families a chance to breathe a bit easier. And most of all – thanks Joe!