Veterans of Clearview HOPE find solace, journey of a lifetime with golf
November 18, 2019 by Bob Denney
EAST CANTON, Ohio — The driveway to Clearview Golf Club is a quarter mile, bordered on the north by the Lincoln Highway, one of this country’s most storied arteries, and framed by gently flowing fairways shaped by the late PGA Professional William Powell.
That paved quarter mile guides golfers to a clubhouse that has become more than an oasis to learning the game of golf. For women veterans, members of Clearview HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere), the road leads to a haven, a place of solace.
“I come down that lane, and every time it’s like coming home,” said Dorothy Bell, 80, a veteran of the long-disbanded Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
In its eighth year, Clearview HOPE has gone where no other women veterans golf program has gone before. Showcased nationally in a CBS “Sunday Morning” segment on Nov. 17, Clearview HOPE has nearly 60 members, including a “core” that has boosted membership by word of mouth. There are 16,500 women veterans in Ohio, and Clearview – whether there’s snow on the ground or humidity of a lingering summer – it has been a magnet in transforming lives.
Clearview HOPE goes beyond a weekly golf instruction format to encourage growing the game. It is an experience that its founder, PGA/LPGA Professional Renee Powell – daughter of Clearview’s legendary architect - calls “life-changing.”
“Golf is unique in that develops a sense of accomplishment in a student, particularly for someone in need of confidence,” said Powell, an At-Large Director of the PGA of America. “To get that ball airborne for the first time can be overpowering. It is a chance to instill in them something that had been taken away. For many suffering from trauma, they had been made to seem smaller, almost cast into a shell. What we have seen is that all begins to fade. It is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, a flower suddenly blooming.”
The women of Clearview HOPE stay in touch with one another regardless if there’s snow on the ground. Through the holiday season, said Powell, “we look after each other.”
In July, six veterans of Clearview HOPE along with guest Tiffany Davis of Tampa, Florida, a member of the Women of Color Golf initiative, were invited to St. Andrews, Scotland. Powell accompanied the women to the “Home of Golf.”
The trip was funded by St. Andrews Legacy, led by its founder and CEO, Graham Proctor. Since 2013, St. Andrews Legacy has hosted almost 150 veterans from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia.
Clearview HOPE was the first women veterans group invited to Scotland by St. Andrews Legacy.“I never thought that this program would be on national TV in a major news program,” said Powell. ”It is about doing something for those that needed help beyond teaching the game of golf. It is helping them with their lives.”
The women’s trip included golf at St. Andrews Links’ Balgove and Strathtyrum Courses; the Kittocks Course at Fairmont St. Andrews and expert coaching from PGA Master Professional David Scott.
The veterans were twice guests in the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse, where in 2015, Powell was among seven historic women honorary member inductees. Powell has her own clubhouse locker.
The veterans lodged at Renee Powell Hall at the University of St. Andrews, the first residence hall dedicated in honor of an American. Powell received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2008 from the university. To further honor their visit, the women were invited to tea by University Principal Sally Mapstone.
“The afternoon tea and hours of conversation that we enjoyed together was a highlight of my summer,” said Mapstone. “I always enjoy spending time with Renee and these women did her great credit. Despite just coming off an exceptionally blustery golf course, they were all in great spirits. They are a group of women who have shown great commitment to their country and for whom Renee’s program is a worthy form of recognition.”
Powell lived through an ugly period of civil rights strife in the U.S., where as an LPGA Tour professional she received death threats. At St. Andrews, she is celebrated.
“We choose to recognize individuals from whom our staff and student communities can and do draw inspiration,” said Mapstone of the dedication of Powell Hall. “Renee is an icon: she has overcome discrimination of both her gender and race; she has succeeded as a sportsperson and a businesswoman; she honoured her father’s legacy by ensuring that Clearview continues to thrive; and, most importantly, she has remained a warm individual who is committed to uplifting and empowering the people around her, particularly women.”
Clearview HOPE has been an awakening for its members. Some openly share their afflictions, a history of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). For many, golf has advanced the healing process.
Women Veterans in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)(2000-2015, Sourcebook, Vol. 4)
Women make up 10% of all U.S. Veterans. Since 2000, there is a 175% increase in Women Veterans using VA Health Care
PTSD, Hypertension and Depression remain the top 3 diagnostic categories
About 1 in 5 women seen in the VHA respond “yes” when screened for Military Sexual Trauma
Women made up nearly 11.6% of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Veterans
57.4% of women in those operations have received VA health care; of these, 89.8% have used VA health care more than once.
Arlinda Mitchell of Akron, Ohio, was a Spc. E-4 in the U.S. Army and served from 1987 to 2000.
“We see another female, we tell her about Clearview HOPE,” said Mitchell. “It’s just us females, and they like that. We are out here on our own. Clearview HOPE saved my life. I was PTSD, I was depressed. It seemed like I couldn’t find anyone else who had gone through what I had. Coming here was an eye-opener. All the women had gone through what I had or dealing with their own problems. We came together as a unit.”
Bina McVehil of Massillon, Ohio, was a Jet Engine Mechanic in the U.S. Navy. Because of her aptitude, she was the only woman in her unit. “Who do you go to when it is a senior officer and you are a low-rank individual,” she said. “No one.”
McVehil was in group therapy in a local VA Hospital when Powell and Clearview HOPE member Barb Hickman of Canton paid a visit in 2013.
“This program has meant the difference between depression and anxiety,” said McVehil. “Now, I have a place where I can go. I have friends here. It means the difference between lying on the couch because you are so depressed that you don’t want to leave the house. You have a place where you can play a sport you didn’t know before. I was a bowler. It’s a feeling of accomplishment to see where I have come.”
McVehil returned to the group therapy session after her debut at Clearview Golf Club. This time she carried a smile on her face.
“I went back to group therapy and told the ladies how much fun it was,” she said. “Eventually, a few did come to Clearview. The group therapy has dissolved.”
Hickman was a chief warrant officer in the Army, serving from 1967 to 1989. She was invited to attend Clearview HOPE in 2011 through her friend, Melinda “Mindy” Cooper, a magistrate.
“I kept coming back because it gave me something to do to help women service members,” said Hickman. “I know this program has saved lives – from suicide. It’s golf that brings us together and it’s Renee that keeps us together and with each other.
“It takes a special person to lead this program, and Renee is that person. When I went in to the military, they were not sending women to Vietnam. I had a different path than the women here. I don’t think there was anything that I had to overcome. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to deal with PTSD or issues like rape.
“It has gotten much worse and the women in the service need to be protected – not necessarily from the enemy, but from men. And, that is not right.”
FIND A PROGRAM: Search for PGA HOPE programs across the U.S.
Cooper was a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves and now serves in the Ohio Fifth District Course of Appeals. She said that she was encouraging other HOPE members be selected to travel to Scotland.
“To Renee and Graham (Proctor’s) credit, I couldn’t grasp what a life-changing experience a trip to St. Andrews would be,” said Cooper. “It was truly the trip of a lifetime – more powerful than I imagined.”
Hollis Burkes of Canton, Ohio, is a detective in the city’s police force. She enlisted in the Army out of high school in 1981, and served in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She attained the rank of Sgt. First Class.
“Golf is wonderful for so many reasons,” said Burkes. “Peace and quiet. I also have been able to meet so many people from all walks of life.” Burkes was introduced to Clearview HOPE in 2011 by Powell. “I was one of her students. She said, ‘You can be my core vet.’ I was the first draftee.”
Burkes said St. Andrews was “fantastic, a Disney World of golf. The people were extremely nice. The culture of the Scottish came out. It was an honor to represent Clearview HOPE on that trip.”
Unlike many of her peers, Burkes did not have issues to overcome following military service. “It’s different for everybody,” she said. “The biggest thing is knowing that there are other women veterans out there. What it has done for me has made me be a better friend.”
In 1971, the late Mary Lou Crocker, an LPGA Tour professional, joined Renee Powell on a USO goodwill trip to visit troops in Vietnam. Crocker would later enjoy Clearview HOPE so much that she was determined to establish a “satellite” program in Texas. She passed away in 2016, but her example affected Burkes.
“When Mary Lou Crocker passed away, I looked at myself and said, ‘You are not that good of a friend with other people,’ ” said Burkes. “You have to be out there and do something for other people.”
Traumatic circumstances on and off the battlefield in Iraq affected Judy Sallerson of North Canton, Ohio. A retired U.S. Army Major, Sallerson served from 1991 to 2013. Depression set in after her headquarters was the target of a mortar attack. Dozens of fellow soldiers were killed. Sallerson was ultimately medically evacuated from Iraq to Germany and to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She spent two years in recovery and was medically retired at 22 years.
“I met Renee and the ladies at Clearview HOPE in 2013 and finally felt at home,” says Sallerson. “I have since reconnected with my children, mentored veterans in treatment court, completed a rigorous Master’s Degree program and continue to work, counseling those who struggle with substance abuse diagnoses.
“I owe it all to fantastic mental health therapy and support, understanding, and validation from these women veterans. This program is more than golf, it’s a new way of life.”
As for the trip to St. Andrews, Sallerson let out a deep breath. “It was the most fun I ever had in my life. And, I got to experience it with my true friends,” she said.
Tiffany Davis, a Chicago native and an E-6 U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom II. She was diagnosed with PTSD in 2011 and found golf “put me in a peaceful place.”“Golf has been my avenue of finding myself in a stress-free, calming environment,” she said. “The trip to Scotland ahs been a dream come true. I hope other minority and women veterans will be able to participate in such a great experience.”
Cooper said the Clearview HOPE experience “is not rhetoric. We have had people tell us they were saved by being here at Clearview. It is a challenge to find another Renee Powell to spread this program.
“We know that we are the sole year-round women veterans golf program in the country. We wish that would change.”
Dorothy Bell, the senior member of the Clearview HOPE, described her weekly visits.
“We get together and talk over our problems,” said Bell. “And everybody has a problem of some sort or another. Some are confidential unless someone wants to talk about it. Everyone embraces you. The get-togethers are wonderful.
‘It doesn’t matter what your rank was, what branch of service that you served; it doesn’t matter the color of your skin or your way of life. We are all sisters.”