College path took a sharp dogleg
“Hey, mom, guess where I am?”
Hearing her son's voice on the phone was a pleasant surprise for Lettie Bellinger. He sounded up, almost cheerful. She was always glad to hear from Randy, her oldest son, although she was caught off guard by his version of “Where in the World Is Randy Bellinger?”
After all, it had only been a week since Lettie and her husband, Charles, had delivered Randy and his prized 1962 Chevy Bel-Air from their farm near Reynolds, Ill., (near the Quad Cities) to the University of Illinois campus at Champaign.
“Well,” she said cautiously, “we left you in Champaign, so…”
But a lot can go south in a week, or in this case, east.
“I had just been wandering around Champaign in my car, feeling like an outsider the whole week I was at the University of Illinois,” Bellinger says. “It just wasn't the place for me.”
So Bellinger drove the 43 miles from Champaign to Danville to get some advice from Chuck Schroeder, who had been Bellinger's golf course management teacher at Danville Junior College.
“You've got two choices, if you want to get into turf science,” Schroeder told him, “Penn State or Purdue.”
Well, Penn State was just too far away. And the trouble with Purdue? Well, Bellinger didn't exactly know where it was.
He never really wanted to leave home in the first place; he would have been happy to stay and farm along side his father on their 120-acre spread.
“Farming is a fine occupation,” Charles Bellinger had told his son, “but if you are going to farm, you aren't going to do it here. This farm just isn't big enough for both of us.”
Paul Ketner, Bellinger's guidance counselor at Rock Ridge High School, helped him develop a Plan B.
“How about being a golf course superintendent?” Ketner asked. “It's a lot like farming. You get to work outside, and you are good with equipment. The only difference is that on a golf course, you get to harvest every day.”
So he worked nights and weekends at the Highland Springs Golf Course in Rock Island, Ill. With a degree from Danville Junior College, Bellinger rose to the rank of assistant superintendent.
And he liked it. Well, except for the part about the golfers. It seemed no matter how hard he worked to make Highland Springs look perfect, there were always plenty of golfers who played as if they were using shovels instead of golf clubs.
“We'd get it perfect and they would just hack it up,” Bellinger says.
The perfect job, he thought, would be as groundskeeper at the gorgeously appointed John Deere plant in nearby Moline, Ill., with its ponds, plants and perfectly manicured grass that was every bit as green as the implements that rolled off the assembly line.
And no golfers making those god-awful divots everywhere.
But a job like that, he was told, would require more than a degree from the Danville Junior College.
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