Family returns father's ashes to former home
John Garrity reached inside a cloth bag and pulled out a beautifully crafted wooden box, placing it on the ground near a similarly-sized hole.
Here, on a cemetery plot behind Immaculate Conception Church in New Richmond, a Friday funeral service would bring the life and death of a man full circle. A handful of family and friends was on hand to witness the long-awaited homecoming.
"Who's in there?" a pre-school-aged girl asked innocently amid chuckles from the adults around her.
"Grandpa Jack," responded several adults, after uncomfortably searching for words to explain the impending ceremony.
None of the younger generation in the crowd had ever met John "Jack" Garrity, who died in 1991.
To the adults among the group, however, the memories of Jack remained fresh. To John Garrity and his sister, Terry, the memories of Jack as their loving father brought ready smiles to their faces. Jack was a hard-working Irishman who could be best described as a "character," according to his son.
"Eventually, when I turn up my toes," Jack had once told his son, "I don't want any fuss. A burial in Reynolds Wrap would be fine."
John surveyed the scene before him. "This nice box would have far exceeded his expectations," he said with a laugh.
Back in 1991, John was happy to oblige his father's wish for a simple funeral, cremating his father's remains and placing the ashes in an urn that has been stored in his Kansas City home ever since.
But something seemed unfinished in the years that have followed. The modest May 23 memorial service could bring the necessary closure.
"My poor dad has been on the shelf for 17 years waiting for this move," John said, following prayers and consoling words from Father James Brinkman during a brief graveside service.
John noted that, according to his calculations, his father had come to New Richmond in 1908 - exactly 100 years ago. He said the centennial anniversary was the perfect time for his father to finally come home.
"There's probably good reason why we've kept him in Kansas City all these years," John said. "He would have appreciated this."
Three-year-old Jack Garrity and his brother, Marshall, were orphaned when their father, Thomas A. Garrity, a successful Twin Cities attorney, died of typhoid fever in 1908. The boys' mother brought them to live with relatives in New Richmond. Jack lived with his aunt and uncle, Jane and Willy Hughes. Marshall grew up next door with the Casey family.
Jack attended St. Mary's School, played the coronet and pole vaulted while in High School.
It was during his teen years that Jack was introduced to a new game that would forever change his future family's path in life. Jack tagged along with a New Richmond man who'd recently traveled to California and learned golf.
In a pasture on the outskirts of town, the young Garrity watched the man send golf balls skyward. The man let Jack give it a try, and the rest is history.
"That's when he (his dad) caught the golf bug," John said.
His father jumped a train to St. Paul and went to the big Spaulding sporting goods store. He bought a golf club, three balls and a "How to Play Golf" book and returned home.
"He propped the book up against a post and taught himself to play," recalled John, who'd heard the story from his father many times before.
After several failed attempts to hit the ball, the young Garrity finally connected on one glorious shot.
"The minute he hit that shot, he was hooked for life," John said.
Indeed, Jack was a golf nut if there ever was one. He constantly read books and magazine articles on the subject. He practiced at every opportunity and once went to see the legendary Bobby Jones play in a tournament in Minnesota during the early years of the sport.
Jack even helped New Richmond leaders construct a sand-green, concrete tee golf course in town in the 1920s.
As he moved on to jobs in Chicago and Kansas City, Jack's love for the game never wavered. He was known to have a sand wedge near his chair in the living room, gripping the club while he watched television.
"In all the family photo albums," John said, "if there was any photo of my dad, he had a golf club in his hand. Dad was always perfecting his golf swing."
Jack eventually passed his love for the game to his kids.
One son, Tommy, who is deceased, would eventually play on the Professional Golf Association Tour in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
John would parlay his love of sports into a writing job with "Sports Illustrated," where he's been a contributing writer since 1979. He's been primarily on the golf beat since 1989, interviewing the likes of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus while reporting on the sport.
"I'm definitely the old hand at the magazine now," he said.
John's also written several books, including a new release "Tiger 2.0," published by Sports Illustrated Books. He is finishing up another book about his father and the family's connection to golf, with an expected publishing date of February.
Even though the family had no lasting connection to this area, John said his father often talked about his youth in western Wisconsin.
"He'd talk about New Richmond and the golf course he'd helped build," John said.
While traveling to watch Tommy play in a golf tournament in 1961, Jack and his son, John, took a side trip to New Richmond. They visited relatives and exchanged stories of the good old days.
Jack would never come back to the area again. But after Jack died, his son learned more about the family's ties to this region. He found out that his great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Michael and Elizabeth Garrity, were buried in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery. Their cemetery plots were surrounded by other relatives' graves, each of whom had emigrated here from Ireland during the famine years of the mid-1800s.
Suddenly the Garritys knew where Jack's final resting place should be, alongside his kin.
At 1 p.m. Friday, the box holding Jack's ashes was lowered into the ground. There were no tears shed. Loved ones were happy that the pioneer golf enthusiast was home where he belonged.
John Garrity was looking forward to bringing the story full circle. Jack Olson, the great-grandson of Jack Garrity, who was named for his relative, was among the mourners that day.
"Later today, I'm going to the golf course and play a couple of holes," he said. "I'll be passing on our ancestoral link to golf and cement my feeling of connection to New Richmond."
And, John said, it will be a nice ending to his new book.