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Paying Forward

Posted Apr 2, 2013

A mere 38 years later and Kenny Anderson's 12-year-old caddy gets to return the favor of a friendship with the superstar who has never stopped acting like the kid next door. Anderson executes his April 25 "Strikes For Autism at Star Lanes" at Newport, Ky., a fundraiser for his goal of building a living community for autistic adults in Cincinnati.


Ken Anderson

A mere 38 years later and Kenny Anderson's 12-year-old caddy gets to return the favor of a friendship with the superstar who has never stopped acting like the kid next door.

"I always gave him the right club and the right distance," Joe Desch is saying with a laugh a few days ago. "It was a matter of execution if he didn't perform it well."

But Desch knows better than anyone that Anderson, the Bengals all-time passing leader, continues to throw strikes in the community 27 years after his 197th and last touchdown pass. Which, by the way, is more than Bob Griese and Otto Graham, and that's not a minor stat in this story that is Desch's yarn as much as Anderson's.

Well, really the true story is that Tuesday is Autism Awareness Day and that it comes three weeks before Anderson's April 25 "Strikes For Autism at Star Lanes" at Newport, Ky., a fundraiser for his goal of building a living community for autistic adults in Cincinnati, giving them an oasis of love and purpose and all the other elements of a home.

Tuesday, April 2, is Autism Awareness Day and the uniquely durable friendship between Anderson and Desch is helping people become very much aware.

The idea is on the first day of the NFL Draft, fans can mingle with current and former Bengals as well as other local celebrities for $50 or $100 while the bowling rolls on.

(For tickets go to necco.org.)

"I love when people give selflessly of themselves," says Desch, who has been known to do it himself. I didn't know that Kenny has this passion and it's been interesting to talk to him about his nephew.

"He reached out to me and it wasn't a huge deal. I just sent (the flyer) around to people that I know and they said what I said. 'Great cause. Great event. And it's not all day like a golf tournament.' I basically got e-mails back, 'I'm in. I'm in.' Especially a name like his. It's never been tarnished."

Anderson went in looking for a sponsor for each of the 16 lanes and after the call to Desch, who grew up to be CEO of PrintManagement in Fairfax, he ended up with more than half of his sponsors.

But, really, it's the least Desch could do after Anderson scrounged all those tips for him at those long-ago Bogie Busters celebrity golf tournaments that dominated the local landscape in the '70s and '80s. It was like the Dean Martin Roast come to Dayton's NCR Country Club.

It's where Anderson and Desch met, and the best they can come up with is that it was 1975. That would have made Desch the 12-year-old, 98-pound weakling and Anderson one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL, complete with a disco moustache and an All-Pro arm.

"He watched me to grow a foot and put on 160 pounds," says Desch, who morphed into a Miami University grad during their nine years together at the Bogie.

But the pint-sized Desch was a heavyweight on the Dayton golf courses, where he and his three brothers were dubbed "The First Family of Caddies" by Dayton sports writer Bucky Albers.
 
In fact, Desch caddied for a couple of First Golfers. He bagged for a former president (Gerald Ford) and a future president (George H.W. Bush), but he always had his choice at the Bogie and it was always the First Bengal.

And it was big event for Anderson, too, where two celebrities were usually paired with two businessmen in a foursome. Bengals founder Paul Brown was a big staple of the tourney and a draw for his old stars in Cleveland, like Hall of Famers Graham, Dante Lavelli and others. They were known as "Paul's Boys," and Anderson seemed to have qualified for that special group.

"I was a football fan. I was a Bengals fan, so you can imagine," Desch says. "Kenny was my idol. But he was as normal as anyone you could find. He was like he is today. Outgoing. Jovial. I was kind of like that and I think he got a kick out of this talkative little kid."

At the end of their first round together during the two-day extravaganza with 175 players on the two plush courses, Anderson asked for Desch again for the next day. It was a no-brainer for the kid. Even if it was a People Magazine event of the era with such celebs as Graham, Griese, John Brodie and Bobby Knight from sports, and Bob Hope, Charlie Pride, Bobby Goldsboro and Glenn Campbell from the entertainment industry.

Bigger than big.

"We had fun and he was my hero and I always knew we were going to have a good day, so why change?" Desch asks. "We didn't carry bags. But we ran with the carts. Kind of like a forecaddie."

At the end of their round, Anderson might say something to the other three golfers like, "Joe's going to Miami and he ran his butt all over the place for us," and he'd pull out 100 bucks for a tip. Back when 20 bucks was a great tip, and the two businessmen in the group didn't want to look bad, so they were pulling out 100s, too.

Desch absorbed a lot more than ultraviolet rays during those rounds. The only way he could go to Miami was on the Chick Evans Caddie Scholarship, a full tuition and housing college scholarship for golf caddies, and he never forgot it. Or the generosity of heroes that isn't always about money. He's currently a national officer for the Evans Scholarship, and he's Ohio's volunteer chairman of the Evans Scholarship Board.

"Now that I'm way past the age that he was when I caddied for him, I enjoy having that influence on a young kid," says the 50-year-old Desch. "I walk every time I play golf. I love the opportunity (to have) a caddie because it's a great mentoring opportunity on a golf course."

Desch calls it "a natural friendship." When he was at Miami, there were times he'd get a call and it was Kenny saying he was coming through town, and why didn't he and some of his buddies come uptown to say hello? His buddies would be shocked, but Desch just shrugged. Anderson wasn't No. 14, he was a friend.

"After I graduated from Miami, the tournament kind of died and I didn't caddie in it anymore," Desch says. "But somehow we kept a friendship going before the Internet and cell phones."

The only other similar celebrity-caddie relationship out of the Bogie that Desch knows involves the you-never-know-when volatile Knight. When he was the coach at Indiana, he gave his caddie a trip to the Olympics as a wedding gift.

That may be a jolt, but the fact Desch got the superstar next door as a lifelong friend in Anderson isn't a shock. And, yes, on the occasion after their last round at the Bogie, Anderson got him a little more cash just after graduation.

The way Desch remembers it, he was looking at the next day's pairings and groaned when he saw that Anderson had been matched with a quite famous country singer. What's wrong, Anderson had wanted to know. He had never played with him and was looking forward to it.

"This guy must have been there about 75 percent of the time and not once had he ever tipped the caddie," Desch says. "He stiffed my brother. It was always the same thing. After the round he'd say, 'I forgot my wallet. I have to get it out of the locker room. I'll meet you back here.' And he'd walk through the locker room, go out the other door, and jump on the Greyhound bus that would shuttle you back and forth to the hotels, and he would never (tip) his caddie.

"I told Ken the story and he said, 'Oh, I'm going to fix that tomorrow.' "

So when they finished the round, Anderson went into his spiel: "Hey, Joe just got out of college, he made our day great, I'm going to give him a hundred dollars." Of course, the two businessmen followed. And, of course, the singer crooned, "I don't have my wallet with me. Let me go into the locker room and I'll be right out here in 10 minutes."

Anderson put his arm around him and piped up, "Don't you worry about that. I'm going to pay him 100 dollars and I'll walk to the locker room with you and we'll get it out of your locker from you."

Desch can still see Anderson leading the stricken celebrity into the locker room and at the last second turning his head back to Desch with a smile.

"I took care of you," he said.

Now a few years later the caddie returns the favor April 25. But on the lanes and not the links.

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