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South Hills Country Club pays homage to police officers

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 11:13 a.m.
Drew Kolek, Max Sciullo, Guy Kuzak and Ron Mesing take the opening ceremonial hit to kick off Police Officer Appreciation Day at South Hills Country Club on June 24.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Allegheny County Sheriff's Sgt. Richard Manning plays 'Amazing Grace,' on the bagpipes during Police Officer Appreciation Day at South Hills Country Club on June 24.
James Kuzak Jr. speaks to area police officers prior to hitting the golf course during Police Officer Appreciation Day.
Officers head to their opening hole as Police Officer Appreciation Day gets under way on June 24.
Pittsburgh city police Officer Matt Marks (left) and Bethel Park police Officer Eric Anibaldi watch as Pittsburgh Officer Kevin Kraus hits his tee shot.
Pittsburgh city police Officer Tony Palermo tees off during Police Officer Appreciation Day.
Bethel Park Police Officer Ian McGuire tees off during Police Officer Appreciation Day June 24 at South Hills Country Club.
Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Law enforcment veterans (from left) Deputy Chief of South Park Dennis McDonough, Robinson Township police Chief Dale Vietmeier and retired Upper St. Clair police Chief Ron Pardini share a laugh during Police Officer Appreciation Day June 24 at South Hills Country Club.

Three empty chairs sitting on the greens served as a constant reminder of why the golfers were there.

More than 150 police officers from 20 departments across Allegheny County gathered at the South Hills Country Club last week for a day of unlimited food, beverages, laughs and a free round of golf. The country club's fifth annual Police Appreciation Day served as a “fun-raiser” to show thanks to those in law enforcement for putting their lives on the line every day, appreciation day coordinator Tim Veith said.

“I really hope that they understand that there's a lot of people that thank them for what they do,” Veith said.

The event began after the tragic events of April 4, 2009, when Pittsburgh police officers Paul Sciullo II, Stephen Mayhle and Eric Kelly were fatally shot in the line of duty, Veith said. Club members sought a way to show police officers that they are appreciated while they still are living, he said.

A free day on the course, complete with dinner and time to socialize, seemed like the perfect way to honor the officers. And so it began.

Each year, the event has honored the life an officer killed or injured in the line of duty. This year's event paid tribute to William “Jerry” McCarthy of Shenago County, who died earlier this year when his police cruiser was struck by a suspect's car, and Perry Vahaly Sr., who died in a motorcycle accident.

James Kuzak Jr., 41, who was paralyzed from the waist down when he was shot five times while responding to a home invasion in Clairton on April 4, 2011, said this outing is extra special for him.

He grew up playing on this golf course, where his father, James Kuzak Sr., works as the course superintendent, and enjoys showing it off and sharing it with his fellow officers.

“It means everything to me,” he said. “It gives me great pride to be here. ... It's not often that we get this many ‘thanks' from everyone.

The club's Police Appreciation Day was held in Kuzak's honor in 2011.

More than 50 South Hills Country Club members volunteered their time to wait on the officers. The members of the club raised money to finance the day, Veith said.

“The members enjoy this as much as the players,” he said.

The 158 officers — up from about 140 the last four years — from across the South Hills, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, laughed and joked about their game, and excitement about that scrumptious dinner that awaited them, as they waited to take the course.

“For the officers, this is important. It's a good time. It's camaraderie. It's talking with fellow officers that you haven't seen in a while,” Whitehall police Chief Donald Dolfi said.

“But the bottom line is that we all remember those photographs over there and the empty chairs. We know those people, and we remember them and miss them. We know why we're here.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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