Even non-golfers can help support this fundraiser.
By Denise M. Baran-Unland
The 2023 John Whiteside Memorial Golf Outing will be held June 28 at the Inwood Golf Course in Joliet.
Even non-golfers can help support this Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad, according to Sharon Eck of Plainfield, coordinator of the golf outing and fundraiser for the Abraham volunteer member of the memorial squad since 2016.
“We still need donations for raffle gifts or gift baskets,” Eck said. “We could also use a couple more golf hole sponsors. And if any business wants to donate promotional items for the golfer gift bags, we could definitely use those.”
Members of the Department of Veterans Aﬀairs Memorial Squad present the ﬂags for the 23rd Annual Memorial Day Ceremony at Abraham Lincoln Na”onal Cemetery. Monday, May 23, 2022 in Elwood. The 2023 John Whiteside Memorial Golf Ou”ng will be held on June 28 at the Inwood Golf Course in Joliet. Proceeds will beneﬁt the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad. (Gary Middendorf – email@example.com/Gary Middendorf)
The [Abraham Lincoln] memorial squad since 2003 has provided honorably discharged veterans a military ceremonial burial service at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood at no charge for families that request it, Eck said.
What if people really want to golf?
“I’ve got openings for four more foursomes,” Eck said.
Why the memorial squad raises funds
Eck said the last golf outing in 2019 raised slightly more than $24,000, which greatly helped the memorial squad in terms of buying and maintaining uniforms and supplies.
“The economy has changed, and some businesses have gone out of business. And some people are just trying to make ends meet. We do understand it is hard for a lot of people right now. So, hopefully, we can come close to what we did before.” — Sharon Eck, coordinator of the golf outing and volunteer member of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad
“We use M1 Garand rifles,” Eck said. “These are old rifles, and we have to clean them after service. It’s expensive to keep them in good working order.”
Uniforms cost about $1,200 per person. The memorial squad has 120 members divided into squads, and 12 to 15 services are typically held at the cemetery each day, Eck said.
So, three squads might be at the cemetery together participating in three different ceremonies at the same time, she said. The ceremony includes a three-volley rifle salute.
“We have a live bugler who plays taps. It’s not recorded,” Eck said. “We do the folding and the presentation of the American flag, and we present it to the next of kin. So it’s a full service.”
Eck said the John Whiteside Memorial Golf Outing lost some of its regular sponsorships since the pandemic.
“The economy has changed, and some businesses have gone out of business,” Eck said. “And some people are just trying to make ends meet. We do understand it is hard for a lot of people right now. So, hopefully, we can come close to what we did before.”
The Herald-News connection
Eck said late Herald-News columnist John Whiteside and former U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller coordinated with the director and staff at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery to form the memorial squad. The squad was inaugurated Aug. 26, 2003, and performed its first service Sept. 9, 2003, Eck said.
Whiteside came to the Herald-News as a reporter in 1971 and wrote three columns a week for almost 25 years. He spotlighted local heroes, military history and his own cancer battle. Whiteside died in 2005 at the age of 61.
An old newspaper photo of Herald-News reporter John Whiteside. Wri”ng stories and columns for the paper for 34 years, Whiteside frequently preferred to work at Joliet restaurants. (Shaw Media)
Eck said the first golf outing in 2005 actually was a social event for the memorial squad members. When the golf outing became a fundraiser, its first sponsorships were few and modest: a white sponsorship for $25, a blue sponsorship for $50 and a golf hole, Eck said.
That expanded into corporate-level sponsorships (up to $1,000 for platinum, Eck said), a beverage cart, a Bloody Mary bar and asking a local car dealership to donate a vehicle for a hole-in-one, Eck said.
But the smaller sponsorships are still appreciated, Eck said.
“What’s great about them is that family and friends can still feel comfortable donating money in memory of loved ones who might be interred at the cemetery – or somebody else who just likes what we do and wants to make a donation,” Eck said.
In 2019, the Herald-News honored memorial squad member Michael Johnson of Joliet, an Army veteran and volunteer with the Joliet Area Historical Museum, as one of its Everyday Heroes.
Eck said membership in the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Memorial Squad is open to veterans and non-veterans.
For information on the memorial squad, call 815-474-0321 or visit abrahamlincolnmemorialsquad.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 2023 John Whiteside Memorial Golf Outing
WHEN: Registration is 7:30 a.m. Shotgun start is 9 a.m. Cocktails at cash bar are 2 p.m. Dinner is 4 p.m.
WHERE: Inwood Golf Course, 3200 W. Jefferson St. Joliet. Cocktails and dinner are at the Elks Lodge, 250 SE Frontage Road in Joliet
COST: Golf and dinner: $140 (includes golf cart, gift bag, lunch, dinner). Dinner only: $30.
INFO: To register for the event, to donate or for more information, contact Sharon Eck at 815-600-2955 or Eckcellentchoice55@gmail.com.
Denise M. Baran-Unland
Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-“me weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.