Say to someone, “If you build it,” and millions worldwide will answer, “They will come.”
It’s from Kevin Costner’s fictional “Field of Dreams” — a film testament to faith in tradition and value in relationships past and present.
Bru (officially Brunilda) Turner has a sports passion also built around tradition and relationships, but it’s golf.
And she’s building her field of dreams.
And they have come — 75 kids age 5-18 from some of Youngstown’s toughest conditions.
There is no fiction about them.
Her dream fills about 10 abandoned city lots on Youngstown’s far northeast corner — Sharon Line some call it.
It’s a patch of land off Jacobs Road that time forgot, and apparently so did city street-maintenance people. When former Mayor Jay Williams envisioned turning parts of the city back to rural status, this area of Northwood Avenue was no doubt on his list.
But it’s not forgotten for Bru and her devoted family and friends.
Northwood is such a part of the Turner family, it could be named after them. Bru points to five homes where family members currently live and homes where other Turners potentially will live. When people would move from the street, they’d approach her dad, and he would often buy. The few neighbors who are not family might as well be. Bru knows as much about them.
Typical of many city neighborhoods — the remaining homes are separated by three or so lots where homes used to be. It’s returned to wild growth.
And it’s in that wild that Bru has created Northwood Golf Academy.
Seriously. “Northwood Golf Academy.”
Just hearing the name invokes thoughts of lush gardens, brick walls, wrought-iron railings and more.
“Well .... I do plan on putting up fences at some point,” Bru says with a twinkle.
You can dismiss Northwood Golf Academy as Costner-like foolishness, but only until you see the photos showing the kids who call the place home Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer. The 2014 class starts June 18. She expects to turn away 30 or so kids.
Further proof is in the money and where it’s come from. She’s wisely spent about $90,000 to repurpose the area. The money’s come from local foundations such as Wean, Youngstown and Community; Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., PNC Bank charitable trusts and Youngstown CIRV.
Most impressive — the United States Golf Association gave her $20,000.
“Two USGA guys flew in here to see our academy,” she said, patient with me as I amused myself at the sight of two buttoned-down suburbia guys walking into the middle of urban wild.
Though Bru has a huge smile that matches her heart, she is all business about golf.
She started the sport at age 44 after her son was grown.
“Guys around my office would talk about the golf trips they went on and these great places. I wanted that,” she said.
She first joined the Executive Women’s Golf Association, which led her to the Midwest Golf Association, an African-American-based organization.
In 1997, she formed the Ebony Ladies Golf League. You can find a mix of the 40 members Saturday mornings at Henry C. Stambaugh Municipal Golf Course. It has a chapter in Texas where a Turner family member lives. A chapter starts wherever Bru can persuade a family member.
Don’t paint Ebony Ladies as a chatty golf bunch.
“We don’t talk much on the course. There’s always action in the game. We can talk after,” she said.
When she retired in 2009 after 37 years with the Ohio Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, she knew the academy would be her life. Others did, too.
Cousin Samantha Turner is Bru’s heir apparent who does all the grant writing.
“Everyone is behind Bru. She’s the matriarch of the family. What she says goes, and we never say no,” said Samantha, who typifies an upstart Youngstowner — born here, went away for college, came back to have an impact.
She counts 15 Turner relatives, some honorary Turners and the Ebony Ladies as part of Bru’s force.
The group started Northwood in 2005 as a summer program combo effort with the McGuffey Centre up the road. McGuffey hosts activities Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. The Ebony Ladies take over Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Together, they keep 75 kids busy from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the summers; provide them breakfast, lunch and a chance to grow as people.
The Ebony Ladies’ Tuesdays and Thursdays are not all golf for the kids. They also provide garden and crafts programs. This year, they will add science and theater offerings.
And Bru does it all on $5,000 per summer — that’s $625 per week to provide programming for 75 kids.
Golf is at its core. Northwood started by taking kids to Parto’s Driving Range and to Stambaugh.
“The travel costs were too much for us,” Bru said.
She always knew the forgotten lots on Northwood had a greater purpose, and she began going after funds to make it happen.
Samantha says people are in shock when they see the place.
“We had the greens company come in, and they said they are used to building these in backyards. They were just stunned that this open space exists in a city and that it just sits there.”
That company built the first phase of Bru’s dream last summer. A smallish green of sturdy artificial turf sits in the middle of space that was once three homes. It’s surrounded by four artificial turf tee boxes varying from 30 to 70 yards from the green.
It’s Northwood’s Phase 1, and its second season opens next Tuesday.
In the next couple of weeks, Northwood will start work on a netted chipping range and a bunker practice facility — each taking up three former home sites. The three areas will zigzag down Northwood, dropped in between well-kept Turner and other homes.
She will spend $20,000 to get the land cleared and ready, then await fundraising and friendly labor to finish the rest. That’s how Phase 1 was completed. After the greens company built the green and tees, Bru’s crew planted the grass and laid straw. Hoses ran from nearby homes for the sprinkler system.
An academy was born.
And Bru’s army grows.
PGA Professional Dave Boos joined about five years ago.
“Bru has the biggest heart on the planet. She puts up with a lot. Some kids would rather not do it, but most of the kids love it. When you see a 7-year-old take a swing and get the ball to fly high, the look on their face that they did it is incredible.”
Boos, who manages Stambaugh, has partnered with Bru on a bigger goal, too.
They aim to have a golf team for East High School within a couple of years.
“If we can get them to play a decent game by the time of high school, the next thing you know, college coaches are looking for them,” said Boos.
Besides helping out at Northwood, he takes a handful of advanced kids and works with them at “the big course” — Stambaugh.
“Before, Stambaugh was this huge place for them,” said Bru. “It’s not anymore.”
As massive as Stambaugh may have been to the kids, equally daunting for Boos was the mission — at first.
“My first thought when I saw it all was, ‘We got a loooong way to go,” he said. “Now — I do not think it’s impossible. It’s a 1,000-mile journey that starts with one step.”
Bru is always looking to pick up believers anywhere.
If you read this today, she will take your help: planting, construction, or even as simple as playing in their June 21 fundraising scramble at Pine Lakes.
One believer she picked up along the journey is Pine PGA Professional Chris Carfangia. He’s been helping for two years and, like Boos, relishes the chance to reach a group of African-American kids from strained backgrounds (85 percent live with grandparents, Bru estimated).
As Boos said: It’s what the PGA expects of its pros.
For Carfangia, it got a bit more personal.
Amid small talk during a session last year, he asked one teen a simple question:
“I just asked, ‘So what do you want to do when you grow up?’”
The teen answered with one simple word that stunned Carfangia.
“He said, ‘Nothing.’ That just killed me. That one moment I did not expect gave me the chance to say or do the right thing.”
Though he recognized the mountain that is the stereotype of a suburban white guy talking to an inner-city black teen, he did not want to let the moment go.
“I just hoped that maybe something I said or did got to him and gave the prospect of living a meaningful life. I thought, ‘Maybe I have a shot right now to impact someone’s life.’”
He gave it a shot.
How’d he do?
“I honestly don’t know. Hopefully, I get to see him this summer and see.”