More MS news articles for September 2000

Friends keep golfer on course

Tuesday, September 19, 2000
By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press

HOLLAND -- Gerald MacDonald isn't the biggest hitter on the course, and his putting game is non-existent.

But it's hard to imagine anyone enjoying himself more. He gave up golf 15 years ago because of multiple sclerosis, only to return to the links with the help of a few friends.

They designed and built an aluminum brace that attaches to golf carts and keeps the 62-year-old Holland man steady as he swings.

"I think it is the finest thing that has happened to me in the last couple of years," MacDonald said Monday, taking practice shots for a multiple sclerosis fund-raiser at Holland Country Club.

"When you've got some hardship, you've got to make the best of it."

MacDonald, a former chairman and CEO of Comerica Bank in Detroit, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- a chronic, often disabling disease of the central-nervous system -- in 1982.

Symptoms can be mild, such as numbness in limbs and fatigue, or severe -- paralysis or loss of vision.

MacDonald worked six or seven years before he told the company's board of directors, which was supportive. MacDonald, who started his 35-year banking career as a teller, retired in 1993.

He and his wife, Carol, then moved to Holland. Their children had attended Hope College.

"We found Jesus in Holland. It was the most wonderful experience of our lives," he aid.

At Central Wesleyan Church, he found the friends who helped get him back on the golf course.

"We got to talking, really, after Mac said he would like to play golf again," said Dave Bomhof, the president of Elmridge Construction in Grandville. "We talked about it, and came up with a prototype out of wood, to see if it would work."

Before long, Bomhof, Lee Huizenga and John Zoodsma had constructed an aluminum brace with a curved metal plate to lean his rear against, and a strap around front. Konrad Marcus fine-tuned it. It connects to golf carts by vices and keeps MacDonald steady.

The only trouble is, MacDonald can't drive a golf cart onto greens. So he skips putting.

No matter. He won "closest to the pin" in a recent tournament.

"He attempts to shoot around 72 to 76 without putting, and he's between 75 and 80 most of the time," said Larry Topp, his golfing buddy and a retired Ottawa County sheriff's deputy.

Topp teed up a ball for MacDonald, then stood back.

"This is the only thing we can do for him. Otherwise he won't let us do anything," Topp said.

MacDonald then fired a 135-yard drive.

"When The Press is here, he turns it on," joked The Rev. Ralph Baynum of Central Wesleyan.

They were among 71 golfers taking part in Holland's second annual Tee-Off Against Multiple Sclerosis -- one of many outings that have raised $2.5 million statewide over the last five years, event manager Joey Hodges said.

She said MacDonald focuses on what he can do rather than what he can't.

"I think it's very inspirational for everyone to come out and witness it," she said. "He has the most positive attitude of anyone I've ever come across."

MacDonald, who serves on the state chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said it wasn't so much the golf he missed, but the camaraderie.

"I had given up golf completely, then they made this contraption for me," he said. "It's nice to have friends, let me tell you."

For more information, call 942-5505 for the Grand Rapids office of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.