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Rosedale women pull heart strings in Manatee County to help vets

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Deb Kehoe and Kathi Skelton flank Staff Sgt. Christopher Gordon, who was honored during the 2018 Rosedale Golf Classic.
Deb Kehoe and Kathi Skelton flank Staff Sgt. Christopher Gordon, who was honored during the 2018 Rosedale Golf Classic.
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It was March 2, and Kathi Skelton and Deb Kehoe had collapsed into a couple of chairs at Rosedale Golf & Country Club.

A full field of 144 golfers had just teed off in their fifth annual Rosedale Golf Classic, which raises funds for Homes for Our Troops. Skelton and Kehoe, the tournament directors, had worked steadily for six months straight to make sure the event was a success, and this was a rare quiet time.

I asked the two Rosedale residents what they planned to do to celebrate.

Jay Heater
Jay Heater

Kehoe told me they planned to have a celebratory breakfast the next morning, the two of them along with their husbands, John Skelton and Jim Kehoe. Although the two women take the lead on the project, the two husbands are just as involved in the background.

While Deb was telling me about their breakfast plans, Kathi interrupted. She would not be able to attend a breakfast because she needed to attend a friend's funeral. Fortunately, they were able to reschedule. A dinner at Spacco in Sarasota replaced the breakfast, and they went to enjoy the meal and celebrate the $114,000 they had raised for Homes for Our Troops.

At the dinner, though, they didn't talk much about 2018. Instead, they would move directly forward, planning the 2019 Rosedale Golf Classic. They already have the date, Wednesday, April 3, again at Rosedale Golf & Country Club.

If the two couples didn't pause for long to celebrate their success in 2018, our community should. They have offered a perfect example of how four people can move the proverbial mountain.

The first year of the golf tournament, they raised $12,000. The amount raised this year is about a third of the cost of a specially adapted custom home for a disabled veteran.

The two retired women — Deb is a career teacher and principal and Kathi is a former teacher who also worked as a travel consultant  — talk a lot about their quest, because they need sponsors and donors to keep moving the needle upward. They say little about their own effort.

But listen to the veterans.

"Deb and Kathi are unbelievable," said Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Gordon, who was honored by this year's tournament and who, on the following Saturday, received the keys to his new home in Groveland. "This home will completely change my life. It will have lower counter tops and wider doors so I can use my wheelchair at home. I will have a remote control to operate the doors, the shower, the shades. The bathroom is built wide enough so I can turn around in my wheelchair.

"What they do tugs at your heart strings. People do care."

In 2005 in Iraq, Gordon was severely injured by an improvised explosive device, losing his right leg above his knee. His left leg is held together by a rod.

Carl Moore, an Army staff sergeant in Afghanistan when he was shot in the chest, remains in a wheelchair now, but is looking forward to a new home in Valrico from Homes for Our Troops. He wanted to thank Deb and Kathi for their work.

"My goodness, I can't say enough about their support," he said. "But there are no words."

Moore looked out at the 144 golfers who came to support the effort.

"This is the America I fought for," he said.

Meeting those veterans make the two couples want to keep working even harder, although all four are in their 70s.

"We have a footprint that works," Kathi said. "But in order to increase exposure, we need to get the word out, so we are spending more time talking to groups. And being in our 70s, we don't have the business connections anymore."

They plow forward, making a bigger difference than they thought possible.

"We have some very generous donors," Deb said. "And this community has reached out. Our waiting list to play in the tournament this year was more than 20. We had our signup on March 2 at noon, and it was sold out by the evening."

So they forge ahead, knowing they need to groom others to take over their cause as they continue to age. They aren't quite ready, though, to let it go.

"We want to involve more people," Kathi said. "But it's been our baby."


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