When Matt Henkel needed a helping hand, he got one from a virtually unknown source.
Now, he’s in the process of happily paying that source back.
Henkel, 35, is the head greenskeeper at PrairieView Golf Club. On Friday, Aug. 15, Henkel and PrairieView will host the inaugural Northwestern Illinois Golf Course Superintendents Association (NWIGCSA) Wee One golf outing. Proceeds will benefit the Wee One Foundation, started in 2004 to assist golf course management professionals who incur significant medical hardships.
Prior to 2008, Henkel had little reason to think he’d be in that position. He was healthy and happy, with a wife, Cammie, and two young children, Ashton and Claire, at his rural Amboy home. He had 6 years under his belt as an assistant greenskeeper at PrairieView.
In the spring of 2008, however, Henkel began to feel run down. He thought he had mononucleosis, but several trips to the doctor revealed nothing.
Finally, something was discovered about his illness.
“My wife took me to the ER, and they didn’t really want to do any tests,” Henkel said. “She was like, ‘Really? We’ve been going to the doctor. Just do something.’ So they did a CT scan, and the doctor was like, ‘You don’t need this, it’s just going to end up costing you money.’
“He did it, and lo and behold, the radiologist saw something he didn’t like. They kept me overnight, I got an MRI the next day, and that was the beginning of everything.”
It turned out to be brain cancer. He was sent to the Madison, Wis., hospital the next day, and surgery was performed to remove as much of the tumor in his brain as possible.
The expenses with the surgery were many, but Henkel was fortunate. He had good insurance, and family and friends held benefits to help him out as well.
Henkel needed about 2 months to recover, and shortly after that, he returned to work. One day at work, a representative from the Wee One Foundation showed up at the PrairieView maintenance shop.
He explained that a fertilizer salesman had been in contact with Eric Henkel, Matt’s first cousin and the head superintendent at Shady Oaks Country Club near Amboy. The salesman brought up the Wee One Foundation, and Eric mentioned his cousin might be a person who could be helped.
The salesman contacted the Wee One Foundation, which had one of their representatives show up at PrairieView.
They talked about the surgery, the recovery, and the expenses involved. Henkel explained that he indeed was lucky that insurance, as well as family and friends, footed a good portion of his bill. There were added expenses, however, such as multiple trips to the Madison hospital, lodging, and child care.
Henkel received a check for $7,000 from the Wee One Foundation.
“When you’re going through something like that, it just adds up,” Henkel said. “That was really a big help.”
By 2009, Henkel’s health had improved to the point where, in addition to his duties at PrairieView, he worked at the United States Open held at Bethpage Black in New York. One of his friends, Morrison native Tim Gravert, was the superintendent there at the time, and had inquired if Henkel wanted to be part of the crew to groom the course.
In 2010, Henkel took over as head greenskeeper at PrairieView, but that was also the year he had another bout with brain cancer. He had surgery, then had to endure a series of 33 radiation treatments spread out over a 6-week period, from February to March of 2011.
The surgery and radiation treatments were a success, and Henkel has been cancer free now for more than 3 years. His once-every-6-months checkups have changed to once a year, and the latest checkup, in July, was a positive one.
With everything back in line, Henkel wanted to do something to help out the Wee One Foundation that helped him in his time of need. That led to the golf outing, which he started planning in March.
He lined up 33 sponsors. A host of prizes, including White Sox and Cubs tickets and various foursome packages at a host of area golf courses, were secured.
It will be a “Superintendent’s Revenge” tournament, with a host of course changes and skills challenges throughout the round.
There will be activities for the family, as well. A bounce house for children opens at 2 p.m., with a cookout on tap for 6:30 p.m.
At 7:45, the movie Despicable Me 2 will be shown on a specially constructed screen near the driving range. The day will conclude with fireworks at 9 p.m.
About 50 golfers were signed up as of Tuesday, and Henkel hopes to have a full field of 72 – enough for a foursome on each hole – when it begins on Friday.
He hopes to raise $7,000 – the amount that he was given – to give back to the Wee One Foundation.
“That was my goal from the get-go,” Henkel said. “These guys bent over backwards to help us out, and we didn’t really know them or what they were all about. They are a great organization.”
What is Wee One?
In 1985, four friends traveled to Scotland for a golf trip. The local caddies were wagering which of the men were going to have the best score, and one caddie stated, “My money’s on the wee one.”
The wee one was Wayne Otto, a golf course superintendent from Wisconsin. He died of cancer on Oct. 21, 2004, and soon after that, a foundation, the “Wee One,” was started in his honor.
Since 2004, more than $750,000 has been gifted to families in 22 states.
Anyone interested in playing in the PrairieView benefit for Wee One should contact Matt Henkel at 815-973-8880. The tournament, which will be held Aug. 15, costs $75 per person, and includes 18 holes of golf and a cart, and dinner and prizes following the round.
High school: Amboy (1997)
Family: Wife, Cammie; children Ashton, 8; Claire, 7; Mara, 2
FYI: Superintendent at PrairieView Golf Club in Byron since 2010, and an assistant from 2002-2010. ... Survived two bouts with brain cancer, in 2008 and 2010.