If you're among the hundreds (if not thousands) of turf guys who swung through Farmlinks during the Pursell days in the early 2000s, no doubt you met Dave Heegard. I had been to Sylacauga twice, once prior to the golf course and lodge being built, and of course the second after. The latter visit was when I met Dave, who was more or less the hospitality officer or smiling face or make-sure-the-guys-have-a-good time person. And that he did well.
Time frames become fuzzy as the years go by, but this must have been post-2000 as that year was when I decided to stop pretending to be a golfer. I was clearly in the minority (read that as "only one" in the group) not interested in playing golf. Even though he was a good golfer and would have enjoyed the day on the course, Dave noticed and asked me, "Want to catch some fish?". So he and I climbed into a small boat and floated around one of the ponds at Farmlinks for a couple of hours. Lesson #1: Keep your plans flexible, and adapt to suit others when needed.
If there's any scenario better for getting to know someone than spending four hours sharing a cart during a round of golf, it's wetting a line in the quiet of a bass pond. I'd say "catching fish" rather than "wetting a line" if we both caught fish. Dave caught the fish — many fish — while I watched. Not by design, but that's how it turned out. He put on an absolute bass-catching clinic, while not making me feel small about not catching any (yup, none). There's Lesson #2: Never make people feel small.
A Minnesota native and graduate of UMN, Dave had worked for Scotts in Ohio prior to joining Pursell, and made his home in Columbus, OH. He switched gears in 2008 to become VP of Sales and Marketing for Lebanon Seaboard Corp, aka Lebanon Turf. To the best of my recollection Dave continued to maintain his home in Ohio while "commuting" to Alabama for Pursell and later to Pennsylvania while working for Lebanon. That's a lot of travel, but home must have been important to him (or perhaps more likely, his wife). Lesson #3: see the second part of Lesson #1 above.
In the years since, Dave and I saw each other mostly at GIS save for one media event Lebanon held at Cooperstown one year. For whatever reason, I always made a point of sliding by the Lebanon booth at GIS and finding Dave. If he was busy or not around, I'd come back. When our eyes connected he would always get up, excuse himself from his conversation, and head my way with a glint in his eye, a warm smile and a strong handshake. As if I meant something to him (hey, maybe I did), and was more than a peripheral person in his life (perhaps I was). Lesson #4: Make people feel special, especially those who may feel on the fringe.
Dave would have been 70 next month. According to Gary Neyman, our "informed source close to the situation", Dave was diagnosed with cancer last year, and since then had a heart attack and a stroke. That's cruel. He recently had a bad fall and was hospitalized, developing a lung infection in the process. "He seemed to beat that and was improving to the point that he was taken out of ICU last Saturday. He was okay at a midnight check but at 4 AM he had to be taken back to ICU, where he died," Gary told us. Not sure if COVID-19 was at play, but no matter, a rough way to go.
I feel very fortunate to have spent those few hours in quiet conversation with Dave, one on one. It's a special talent of "people persons" to be able to impact casual acquaintances that way. Dave Heegard was most definitely a people person. And man, could he catch fish.