Rob Reifert grew up with S.P. Jermain. It just didn't mean much, if anything, to him.
"Ottawa Park was where I learned to play golf," Reifert said. "It's where I became an avid golfer. You could say it was my home course. The statue was always there and you'd sort of notice it without seeing it. You know what I mean?"
The statue, of course, was of S.P. Jermain. There had been times through the years, since it was placed in 1928, when old S.P. would go missing. But usually it was a prank and the cops would find the statue lying in a field or a diver would drag it out of Walden Pond and they'd place it back on its granite base behind the pro shop at Ottawa Park's golf course.
The city's recreation and parks people got serious and finally bolted and cemented the 32-inch tall statue - really, it was a sundial with old S.P. addressing a ball with a driver, or maybe a brassie, in his hand - to its base. It would take some kind of effort to get it off after that.
On Jan. 10, 2006, somebody produced that kind of effort. The culprits must have chained a truck to it and given it a massive yank because even the granite base was ripped loose and overturned. Old S.P. hasn't been seen since.
Tomorrow, at noon, thanks to Rob Reifert, S.P. Jermain returns to Ottawa Park, as well he should.
A huge University of Toledo fan even while living in Florida for the last decade - he's known on the message boards and in fan chat rooms as Rocket Rob - Reifert returned for UT's homecoming in the fall of '06 and learned S.P. was still missing. The next morning Reifert was waist deep in Walden Pond, behind the clubhouse, seeing if he could find it himself.
"I'm guessing somebody took it and cut it up for scrap metal, the market [for which] was taking off about that time," said Reifert, who won Toledo District and Northwest Ohio PGA junior golf championships in the early 1970s. "They probably made $200 off it."
For all Reifert knew, that was all the statue was worth. But out of curiosity he started doing research on old S.P., and, "The more I learned, I was blown away by what this man accomplished. I realized then we had to put him back in place."
What Reifert found out was that Jermain was the city's first parks commissioner and created the extensive system we can be so proud of today. That included Bay View Park where, as parks director, Jermain was the lead city official for the Jack Dempsey-Jess Willard heavyweight title fight, arguably the greatest sports spectacle in Toledo history, fought there in a 80,000-seat temporary stadium on July 4, 1919.
Jermain designed the original golf course at Ottawa Park in the late 1800s and was instrumental in the first-ever U.S. Public Links tournament being staged there in 1922. He was one of the founders and the first president of Inverness Club in 1903, likely had a hand in the design of the original holes, brought in Donald Ross to do the rest, and was responsible for the 1920 U.S. Open being played there. Shortly thereafter, Jermain had an idea that he passed along to the PGA of America. The result? The Ryder Cup, now golf's greatest international competition.
"When I realized who he was and what he had done, I knew we had to keep his spirit alive," the 56-year-old Reifert said.
In 1928, a group called "Friends of S.P. Jermain" financed the original sun dial statue, sculpted by Josephine Kern. The day it was dedicated, the 68-year-old Jermain was on hand and stoically posed for a picture next to his likeness. His friends presented him with a leather-bound book filled with personal letters written to him by the 100-plus people who donated to the statue fund.
Reifert organized the second coming of "Friends of S.P. Jermain" and, again, more than 100 folks turned out to attend committee meetings and play in benefit outings that raised about one-third of the cost of replacing S.P.'s statue. The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo picked up the rest of the tab and Brian Maughan, a noted sports sculptor from Yellow Springs, Ohio, was commissioned to duplicate the original artwork.
Tomorrow, S.P. Jermain returns to his rightful perch at Ottawa Park. The rededication, open to the public, will be held at the original spot on the Walden Pond side of the clubhouse, although the statue will eventually be located in a more secure site on the parking lot side where park personnel and police patrols can keep a better eye on old S.P. after hours.
Never again, says Reifert, should the memory of one of the most estimable gentlemen in Toledo history, and our city's greatest sportsman, be sacrificed for a couple hundred bucks worth of scrap metal.