COLUMBIA — After an early rain quickly ceded to an overbearing sun Monday morning, an impressive crowd gathered at the Country Club of Missouri: a former governor, an Emmy-nominated actor, former MLB and NFL all-stars, a slew of television personalities and a multitude of standout MU athletes, both past and present.
And yet, one person's name was on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Everyone’s but his own.
“I don’t like to say my name if I can avoid it,” ESPN SportsCenter anchor John Anderson said, shortly after declaring the winner of what he called simply the “Celebrity Golf Invitational.”
While the spotlight on Anderson was partially because the John Anderson Celebrity Golf Invitational, now in its second year, bears his name, it’s also because such an event could bear his name. Thirty-five celebrities descended upon Columbia and weathered the intense heat, and many of them were quick to list Anderson as the primary reason they were there.
"He's so folksy," fellow ESPN anchor Linda Cohn said. "Being a New Yorker, he represents kindness, and he makes me laugh. Anytime you can hang with someone that makes you laugh, you do it."
The primary benefactor of the Celebrity Golf Invitational is the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri. The group uses the funds to help fuel its Buddy Pack program, in which school children throughout the state are given a backpack full of nutritious food each week.
“We give the children the backpacks on Friday, and they bring them home. They use the food over the weekend, and they bring them back on Monday,” said Bobbie Kincade, the Food Bank’s director of development. “Through the generosity of John Anderson and their foundation, we are able to increase the number of backpacks we are able to supply to children that are hungry.”
Because of incoming stimulus money, Anderson said Food Bank executive director Peggy Kirkpatrick encouraged donations to other causes as well. In addition to a $20,000 donation to the Food Bank, $22,500 was raised for relief efforts in Joplin, and another $20,000 went to Columbia Public Schools.
In addition to the golf tournament, which was won by a group featuring former standout Missouri basketball player Jon Sundvold, a school supply drive for Joplin schools was held both at the country club and on Sunday at Shiloh Bar and Grill. Further funds were raised via a silent auction, which featured items including ESPN “swag bundles,” Royals and Cardinals ticket packages and jerseys autographed by recent MU quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, Chase Daniel and Brad Smith.
Anderson’s wife, Tamara Anderson, serves as a trustee for the Anderson Family Charitable Foundation, the group behind the Celebrity Golf Invitational. She said the foundation was formed because the Andersons wanted to give back to the many communities that had been important to them.
John Anderson is a graduate of MU, and Tamara Anderson was born in Carthage, a city 20 miles from Joplin. In addition to their support of Missouri schoolchildren, the Andersons also hold events in John Anderson’s hometown of Green Bay, Wisc.
“We have two young children that are in the elementary school age range, so we can see the effects of that and see where there are needs in that age range,” Tamara Anderson said. “That's how we decided to make that a mission for our foundation.”
That mission is realized in large part because of the strong connections John Anderson has made with so many people. Big Ten Network anchor Mike Hall said he relishes the rare opportunity to come back to his former campus, but Anderson’s involvement made the invitation to participate in the event an offer he couldn’t refuse.
"John was my mentor at ESPN and at Mizzou, so basically I owe him a life sentence," Hall said. “When he wants me to kill someone, I do it. When he wants me to come do a golf event, I do it.”
Anderson’s reach extended beyond the world of sports. Arguably the biggest star participating in the tournament was actor Jon Hamm, star of AMC’s “Mad Men.” Hamm and Anderson met at the 2009 MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis, and a delay in the television show’s production opened up the door for Hamm, an MU graduate, to return to Columbia.
“It beats working, I'll tell you that much,” Hamm said of the event.
The event also featured a representative from the other side of the Missouri-Kansas rivalry. Former Kansas basketball standout Isaac “Bud” Stallworth, the 1972 Big Eight Player of the Year most noteworthy for scoring 50 points in a game against Missouri, said his degree in social work and the opportunity to help children drew him to what otherwise might be less-than-friendly confines.
"You kind of set aside the rivalry when you're doing things that are real life situations, so to speak," Stallworth said. "When you look at the big picture, it is what it is — a game is a game, and life is life."
Thanks to the hard work and donations of Anderson and all those involved in the Celebrity Golf Invitational, a game helped improve the lives of many. Upon receiving the check for the Food Bank, Kirkpatrick articulated a point that several other people had all but said.
“I have never, ever, ever met a man like John Anderson,” Kirkpatrick said. “He is the most humble, unassuming, generous person I have ever met.”