by Carol Cowdrey
Special to The Leaven
LAKE QUIVIRA — For most kids, a visit to the golf course usually means a chance to get their hands on some clubs and maybe take in a lesson or play a round of golf. For the Zarda family, an annual golf outing is where they learned the value of serving others.
The Ben & Betty Zarda Family Golf Classic celebrated its 40th anniversary on May 10 at Lake Quivira Country Club. An all-time high of 200 golfers played in the milestone tournament, raising a record-breaking $218,000 for the Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas.
“My heart is so full,” said Lauren Solidum, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “In a time where division is often the norm, Catholic Charities and the Zarda Family chose to bring people together for a cause that joins us as a community.”
This outpouring of support was especially meaningful for the Zarda family this year. Ben and Betty’s son and five daughters, as well as 20 of their 23 grandchildren, attended the tournament. Many of them, with their children, also served on the golf classic committee, alongside longtime members Craig Gaffney, Pat McAnany, John Southard and Ernie Straub.
Missing this year, though, was Ben’s leadership. Although Betty passed away in 2019, Ben continued to have an active role until his death just weeks before the 2020 event.
“I am so grateful for the family’s tenacity and hard work this year,” said Solidum. “We all had big, big shoes to fill. Seeing the familiar faces and so many new faces participating in the golf tournament gives me nothing but hope for the continued success of this event in the spirit of Ben and Betty and for those who rely so deeply on our services.”
Since its inception, the event has raised more than $3 million. The funds help provide food assistance to children and adults over the summer months when Catholic Charities often experiences a decrease in donations and an increase in food pantry visits.
Early on, it was important for Ben and Betty to make the golf classic a family affair.
“Dad and Mom got the family involved in the tournament as much as they could,” said daughter Dana Rieke. “It was something that we just did. You knew you were doing something for Catholic Charities and it was going to help people who needed help.”
Daughter Nancy Sayler agreed.
“We all assumed that’s what you did. You volunteered. You helped others. They instilled it in us and led by example,” she said. “We just assumed everybody did that.”
Ben and Betty’s will to serve others is a testament to their Catholic faith.
“They lived their faith. Service was such a huge part of their lives,” said daughter Marla Chandler. “This tournament for Catholic Charities was just them sharing what God gave them.”
While Ben made the big financial asks, he called on other family members, including the grandchildren, to solicit and pick up tournament prizes. Jobs were also assigned to those of all ages to help out during the day of the event.
Grandson Colby Rieke, whose first job with the tournament was working as a ball boy when he was in sixth or seventh grade, said, “It was a huge example for me to see my grandparents so involved with this tournament. They were so benevolent with their time, talent and treasure — just as the church asks us to do. It has been something that I strive for personally, but Grandma and Grandpa set the bar very high.”
It was Ben’s leadership of the tournament, his desire to deliver a unique golfing experience and the relationships he built within the community that left a lasting impression on the grandchildren.
“Grandpa led from the front,” said grandson Sean Scott. “He always said you need to be a doer. Don’t sit back.”
As children, they didn’t fully understand the impact of what their grandparents were doing, added Sean. “As adults, we now get it, and we are committed to carrying on what they started.”
Daughter Karen Sneed is thrilled to see the younger generations of Zarda family members get involved.
“I’m excited for my kids. They’re getting to that age of wanting to be a part of this. They know how important it was to Grandpa and Grandma,” she said. “It’s good for them to see that legacy living on.”
The Zarda family hopes that the Ben & Betty Zarda Family Golf Classic will continue to be an event golfers look forward to and, in Ben’s words, “Have fun while raising funds.”
“All of our families care deeply about honoring this tradition,” said daughter Lilli Zarda. “We really have gotten so much more out of being part of this tournament and helping Catholic Charities than what we have given.”