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Faith and PGA Tour player David Toms, who helped present her with signed ID badges from all the events she volunteered.
Fess up: how many of you have spent an entire day working the zinc plating line or the powder coating booth and wondered what life after finishing would be all about? Visiting the fishing hole a few times a week, maybe taking up a hobby, or just watching the grandchildren grow.
SEE FAITH ON CNN AT THE END OF THE STORY
Larry Tanner of Michigan had that same dream, although it was a bit more unusual than others. Larry —a lifetime powder coater who owned Blu-Surf in Parma and Surfinco in Albion—and his wife, Faith, wanted to do what they truly loved, and that was to travel and attend PGA Tour golf events.
HE JUST DIDN'T WAKE UP
Golf was a passion for Larry after he retired from the finishing industry, and when he met Faith a few years later and they married in 2002, she quickly fell in love with the game, too. So they decided they not only would travel the country and watch great golf, but they would volunteer at each of the 37 PGA Tour stops in their new fifth-wheel motor home they bought.
The plan was great, except that life got in the way. Or should we say, death. They were working a few nearby events in 2008 just to get the hang of it when Larry began feeling a little different right after the Ryder Cup. He seemed quieter, Faith noticed, and his demeanor began to change.
He went to the doctor and the news was devastating: Larry had a frontal lobe brain tumor nearly the size of a softball in his head. The doctors told him they would perform surgery that week. He spent nearly every minute with Faith, then underwent an operation that left him in a coma. He died six weeks later.
“He just didn’t wake up,” says Faith.
What a punch in the gut. Run your finishing shop for decades, pay salaries, pay taxes, retire, meet the woman of your dreams, plan an adventure and then this happens. Faith was devastated, but she knew how much Larry was looking forward to the 37 cities they were going to visit to volunteer at the PGA Tour events. Still heartbroken, she sat down and planned the trip in Larry’s memory. He would be there beside her, she told herself. It was his dream and she would live it for him.
Friends and family thought she was nuts, but Faith wanted to do this for Larry. She cashed in retirement savings, sold some personal items and put off her real estate career in order to volunteer at the events; she handed out water, directed spectators, worked press tents, collected garbage, all the while thinking of Larry.
DO IT NOW
“If I was prudent and waited five or 10 years to retire, then the tribute to him would lose its significance,” she says. “I do feel alone on this journey without him, and I literally have to stop to take deep breaths and mentally focus instead on the years of happiness we did share. Otherwise I would break down and sob frantically. I can’t help it … I loved him deeply.”
By mid-August she had been to 31 events, having been home to Michigan only once this summer. She's put close to 30,000 miles on the Honda Civic hybrid she bought to drive to events.
She tries to get by on just $15 a day, often eating in the volunteer area and staying with local families who hear about her and Larry’s dream. But she’s spent nearly $3,000 alone on clothing that volunteers have to wear and pay for themselves, but she feels it’s worth it.
CBS Sports and CNN even aired short segments on national TV telling the story of Faith and Larry.
“I keep in mind that these interviews and videos help me keep beyond my wildest dreams a promise I made to my loving husband on his death bed,” she says. “And that is that he would never be forgotten.”
While driving from an event in West Virginia one day in August, Faith realized that it was the anniversary of Larry’s death. When the thought struck her, she pulled off the interstate and drove down a winding road, stopping at a small stream winding its way down a country side.
She got out and sat on the hood of her car and began to cry, realizing that it was not just sadness over losing Larry, but also anger.
“I was mad at him for dying,” says Faith. “He was supposed to be there with me. I was supposed to have him with me to share this beauty. That was our dream together.”
Mentally and financially, the trip was taking its toll on Faith.
“I underestimated the personal and financial sacrifices that also go hand-in-hand with this adventure,” she says. “I get extremely homesick. I see my bank account dwindle. I travel thousands of miles alone.”
But the next day there she is at another PGA Tour event, maybe handing a microphone to golf star Rory McIlroy as a volunteer at a press conference and thinking “Larry would be digging this right now.”
NEVER FORGETTING LARRY
Faith smiles knowing that she is fulfilling Larry’s dream, and knowing that he is somewhere watching all of this with amusement and bewilderment. She even started weblog at myblog.pgavolunteers.com to chronicle her travels and her thoughts on Larry.
“Each and every day I speak of Larry,” says Faith. “This journey is a tribute to Larry. Although he is not here physically, he is still my number one priority, just as he was in life.”
See the videos of Faith below