S.C. Club Salutes Pals Lost Sept. 11 With An Ongoing Gift: Education
There are two white Adirondack chairs near the first tee at Secession GC, and unless the no-see-ums are saying otherwise, they are a perfect place for a drink, a cigar, a thought. The seats offer a great view of South Carolina's lowcountry marsh, but their meaning goes beyond a vista.
Among the 2,753 people who died at the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, among the 658 who perished at Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment bank located on the 101st to 105th floors of the North Tower, were two Secession members, Jeff LeVeen and Stephen Roach.
The chairs are for two absent friends -- hard workers who lived well, family men who loved golf. "Jeff used to come down, bring his friends and spend the week," says Secession member Frank Stone. "It was like their fraternity -- pizza, golf, cards, yucking it up. Steve would come from New York and his brother, Rick, from Boston. They'd spend long weekends. It was a family reunion for them. Secession is full of passionate people who love golf. That's who they were."
They were city boys -- LeVeen a 55-year-old New Yorker, Roach a 36-year-old Bostonian -- drawn to play getaway golf at Secession, an exclusive private club of 750 members in sleepy Beaufort, S.C. Secession took its name because Beaufort is where the Articles of Secession were written in 1860, facilitating South Carolina's withdrawal from the union. The club, with caddies and without real estate, continues its Civil War theme with tees named for generals (Grant, Lee, Sherman, Jackson) and holes named for battles such as Bull Run, Shiloh and Gettysburg. The Blue-Gray, a fall member-member, is Secession's biggest occasion.
At the 2001 Blue-Gray just after 9/11, LeVeen, a father of five, and Roach, a dad of three, were saluted by a moment of silence, bagpipes, prayers and a tribute of golf balls driven into the marsh. Member Andy LaVallee, tears in his eyes, told Stone they had to do more to honor LeVeen and Roach.
"We had to do something special," LaVallee says. "Members come down for three or four days, four or five times a year and strike up friendships and rivalries. Those guys were part of the fabric of Secession, very generous men. We had to create more of a legacy to them."
LaVallee and fellow members along with the victims' families decided to form the LeVeen-Roach Scholarship Fund to help Beaufort-area kids go to college based on need, academics and some connection to golf. Grants range from $1,500 to $10,000. Starting with five recipients in 2002-03, 188 men and women -- about three-fourths having no connection to Secession -- have received $1.2 million ($1.6 million has been raised, all within the club) to finance their education, according to Stone, the fund's treasurer.
Mark Anderson, a second-year member of the Nationwide Tour who caddied at Secession as a teen, got aid for four years while working toward his 2008 business management degree at South Carolina. England native Chris Summers, 39, currently Secession's accommodations manager, started at the club as a caddie in 1997. He used money from the LeVeen-Roach scholarship to pursue a business education at South Carolina's Beaufort campus, attending night classes for seven years before graduating in 2007.
"It would have been a real struggle without their help," he says. "It wasn't only the money, but the enthusiasm they had for what I was trying to do that meant so much."
The 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 will prompt a pause to remember the tragedy, but for the families of those who were killed, the occasion will arrive with a grim sameness. "The 10th anniversary won't be any harder than the ninth, no harder than the third, no harder than the first," says LeVeen's 33-year-old son, Andy. "There's a lot of hype over anniversaries, whether a tragic one like Sept. 11 or the Mets winning the World Series, but I miss my father every day."
The LeVeen family will gather Sept. 11 as it has on each of them since the terrorists bleached the color from that blue-sky Tuesday. Tears, laughs, stories. But a difference, this year. On Sept. 12, Andy LeVeen's daughter, Virginia, named for her paternal great-grandmother, will celebrate her first birthday. By the time Virginia is ready for college, the LeVeen-Roach Scholarship Fund hopes to still be offering a helping hand to those who need it.
"Out of something really, really tragic," says LaVallee, "came something really, really good."