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At 101, former Claysville man organizes golf event benefiting vets

| Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 12:36 a.m.
Bill Ely (left) and his son Dick played a round of golf in 2008 at Dogwood Hills golf course in Claysville, which the elder Ely designed.
Chris Togneri
Bill Ely (left) and his son Dick played a round of golf in 2008 at Dogwood Hills golf course in Claysville, which the elder Ely designed.

At 101, Bill Ely has earned the right to take it easy.

That's hardly his style, though. And his enduring drive is benefiting Wounded Warrior programs.

For a second year, Ely is helping organize the Wounded Warrior Country Classic golf tournament in his native Claysville. The June 8 event benefits programs for troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is held at Dogwood Hills Golf Course, which Ely and some friends built in 1970 on 250 acres of rolling hills that his parents once farmed.

“I'm lucky to be here still,” Ely said last week from his home in Delray Beach, Fla. “If I can contribute anything at my age, I'm happy to do it.”

Ely and his wife, Helen, will not travel to Claysville for the tournament. Still, he's taking an active leadership role.

“He's very much involved. ... Some would say too much,” joked Ely's son, Dick, 69, of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. “His mind is unbelievably strong.”

Separated by 1,100 miles, Bill Ely stays on top of developments here by sending notes — some of them four-page, handwritten letters and all of them full of suggestions — to tournament organizer Jacie Carter.

“Oh, I implement them,” Carter said. “These are not off-the-wall suggestions at all. His ideas are right on the money.”

The tournament originated as a homage to Ely, whom locals call “The General.”

To celebrate his 100th birthday, Ely's three sons wanted to host a tournament in his name, on the course he built.

Bill Ely would have nothing of it.

If you're going to hold a tournament, he told his boys, it has to benefit a good cause. They floated the idea of raising money to benefit veterans, and Ely, a retired Army lieutenant general, agreed at once.

They raised $13,000 last year. This year's event already brought in $25,000.

“When people find out that The General is involved, they want to contribute,” Carter said. “The donations have been flowing in. I mean, it's unbelievable, the network of friends and supporters they have.”

The money will go to Warrior and Family Support Center, the Military Officers Association of America, Operation Troop Appreciation, Vail Veterans Program, Train a Dog Save a Warrior, Walter Reed Society and the Pittsburgh Fisher House.

Bill Ely doesn't play golf anymore. He is a local links legend of sorts, known in Claysville for nine career aces and the remarkable feat of posting an 18-hole score lower than his age nearly 2,000 times.

Helen, set to turn 100 this year, hits balls weekly at a Florida driving range, Dick Ely said.

“We've been married 73 years,” Bill Ely said. “And here's something: Helen probably has a distinction that not many people can claim. She's been in the Army for 100 years. Her dad was a graduate of West Point, in 1909, and she lived with him until she and I got married. So she's been in the Army for 100 years, almost. There's nobody else that I know of that can claim that.”

Though the couple will not attend the golf tournament, Dick Ely said he will carry an iPad around the course, connected to his parents' iPad via FaceTime. They'll greet golfers and perhaps offer tips.

“It's a short course but it can test you,” Dick Ely said. “You're playing on hills. You've got to realize the ball is going to do some strange things unless you know where you're placing it.

“Of course, it's different now,” he said. “There were no trees when we first built it. But we planted all those trees — that was in 1970 — and they've matured. It's an entirely different terrain.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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