By Matt Levins
The Hawk Eye
Respect. Integrity. Sportsmanship. Those are three words that describe Betty Thye, well, to a ‘T.’
BGC member and BGC Men’s Championship and City Championship winner John O’Neill III described Thye best, calling her “Burlington’s First Lady of Golf.”
Thye is one of the biggest reasons why southeast Iowa churned out junior golfers who went on to play and excel at the game the rest of their lives.
Thye, who was inducted into the Iowa Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2009, died on Tuesday morning. She was 99. She would have turned 100 on July 22.
Thye leaves a legacy that dates back to the 1950s. Her influence on the game was felt from the Missouri River to the Mississippi, from the Minnesota border to the Missouri border.
But nowhere was her gentle touch and soft words of encouragement more felt than in Burlington and at Burlington Golf Club, where she was a longtime member and spent much of her time.
Thye’s passing leaves a void that will be impossible to fill.
“She was one of the most influential people on juniors, as well as Joe (BGC PGA professional Butler) and Jock (former BGC professional Olson),” said Jill Blackwood, longtime member at BGC and one of Thye’s closest friends. “She didn’t teach me how to swing the golf club, but I would never be the player I was able to become if not for her. She taught me how to play the game.”
In her letter nominating Thye, Blackwood, a former Iowa Women’s Golf Association President, stated that “Every woman golfer in Iowa has benefited from her efforts and they will continue to benefit in the years ahead.”
“It’s a sad day in Burlington,” Butler said. “She hadn’t missed a single day of junior golf in my first 24 years here until this year. She loved golf and she helped teach the rules of golf. She was a rules stickler, for sure. She leaves a tough void to fill, without a doubt.”
“I just went and saw her on Saturday and we had a good chat,” said Randy Trine, former golf coach at Burlington High School and a winner of the City Championship multiple times. “She was a great lady. She was really important to all of our young people. We had some really good people (at BHS) for a long time and she influenced a lot of them. Any time I needed help, she was always there to help. Sometimes we don’t appreciate someone until they aren’t there any more. She will be sorely missed.”
Thye served on the Iowa Women’s Golf Association Board of Directors for 25 years beginning in the 1960’s. During that time, she served as IWGA Vice-President from 1984-85 and President from 1985-1988. She was also the Chair of the Course Rating Committee (1970-77) and helped the USGA establish women’s course ratings throughout the state.
Thye was the director of the Iowa Wife-Husband Championship 1978-1985 when it was held in Okoboji and was the largest tournament of its kind played on one golf course — more than 500 players.
Her service to the game of golf didn’t stop with the IWGA. As a member at Burlington Golf Club, she contributed her time and talents to help the junior golf program. She has mentored several generations of junior golfers on the rules of golf and the values of the game.
Thye’s service to youth went far beyond the golf course. She spent countless days at Sunnyside Elementary School, where she would listen to first-graders read every week in Julie Swanson’s class. The last three years she spent time with the kindergartners in Christine Larkins’ and Nina Zaiser’s classes.
“Sometimes the kids wouldn’t read to her. They would just talk to her. She had quite a listening ear,” Swanson said. “Most of the time she would walk to Sunnyside from her house. When the weather was bad, she would still get in her car and drive over. We’ve lost a gem.”
In a letter supporting Thye’s nomination Iowa Golf Hall of Fame member Olson said, “I first met Betty in 1976 when I became the head golf professional at Burlington Golf Club. Thirty-two years later, she is still one of the biggest promoters of the game that I have ever known. She is the greatest volunteer that I have ever known, as well as a very good player in her own right.”
“Forty-two years ago on my first day of junior golf she was there. She was very dedicated,” O’Neill said. “She mentored countless kids in golf. She was an advocate of golf all over, not just in Burlington. Many of the tournaments I played in she was out there helping to run it. That is so important. You have to know the rules. You’ve got to honor the rules and etiquette of golf. Even during her off time, she would be there to take kids out golfing. She just loved kids and she loved golf.”
“The kids all called her Miss Betty. But her nickname was B.T. That’s how everybody knew her,” said Stacey Stevens, whose sons, Mateo and Tomas Rascon, and daughter, Sela Rascon, were influenced by Thye, as was Stacey’s father. “She used to watch my dad play golf and she was always interested in how my kids were doing. She was always a stickler for the rules. If I ever had a question about the rules, I knew I could always ask Betty and she would know. She will be greatly missed.”
One of the final people Thye touched was Charles Jahn, who won the BGC Men’s Championship two weeks ago. Thye was in the hospital, but she made sure her PGA visor, with the signatures of numerous BGC champions on it, was delivered to BGC for Jahn to sign. That act of kindness did not go unnoticed by Jahn.
“I grew up at the Club with Betty running the junior program. Betty was always very interested in how I was doing in my golf tournaments and very encouraging, as well,” Jahn said. “She would send me cutouts of articles about me in The Hawk Eye. In fact, she sent me the cutout about a week ago on me winning the Club Championship, as well as a note, which says a lot about her, considering the shape she was in when she sent it. The name Betty Thye will always be synonymous with Burlington Golf Club.”
“She had such a true love for the game. She was such a big supporter of girls golf and women’s golf,” said Marianne Briggs, who took lessons from Thye when she was younger and whose children, Matt and Lauren, have been influenced by Thye. “Whenever I would see her at Sunnyside she would always ask about the kids. Golf was her life and the Burlington Golf Club. The people there were her family. They always took care of her.
“Betty was one of those people who had always been around and you just assumed she would be around forever. She was a great asset. She will be greatly missed.”
“She was a true inspiration for me,” said former Notre Dame-West Burlington high school and Luther College golfer Katie Gaudian. “She was always the first face you would see at junior golf. She was always very determined and she never let anything get in her way. She was always at the golf course ready to go.
“I think the thing about her was that her life was so full of love and adventure. I try to model my life after her’s. I always care about people and try to keep golf in my life. I am always looking for what next adventure I can take. She was always interested in us kids and what we were doing and where we were going. Just her personality is something I took away from her. She was always in a good mood. She saw life and had fun every day. She helps me remember when I am having a bad day on the course that we are out there to have fun, to enjoy nature, enjoy the sunshine and just have fun. She will definitely never be forgotten.”