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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Spodnik remembered as mentor and industry leader and pioneer

John Spodnik, who mentored dozens of would-be superintendents and was an industry leader at the national, state and regional association level, died Aug. 26. He was 93.

His entire 35-year career as a superintendent that began in 1959 was spent at Westfield Country Club in suburban Cleveland. 

Among those influenced by Spodnik is Mark Jordan, his protege at Westfield and now the club's natural resource manager.

"He was a very influential leader in the industry, community & to Westfield Insurance," Jordan wrote on social media. "Those of us fortunate enough to know John are better people today."

Nicknamed the Sodfather because of his leadership in the industry he loved, Spodnik was a major association influencer at all levels. He was the secretary treasurer of the Northern Ohio GCSA chapter throughout the entirety of his career and was named honorary president in 1994. He was among a group of superintendents who together helped found the Ohio Turfgrass Association and spent seven years as its inaugural director. He also was active at the national level, and was GCSAA president in 1969. He was active in the Musser Foundation and was the recipient of the GCSAA Col. John Morley Award that is presented annually to "an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the golf course superintendent's profession."


John Spodnik, left, with protege Mark Jordan, was a leader at all levels of the green industry. Mark Jordan Twitter photo

"I'm proud of what OTF has done not only for golf course superintendents, but for everybody in the green industry," Spodnik said in an OTF video in 2016. 

A Coast Guard veteran in the period between World War II and the Korean War, Spodnik eventually earned a degree in industrial engineering from what is now Cleveland State University. During his college days, he worked at some of the historic and legendary Cleveland-area clubs, including Canterbury and Shaker Heights before being named superintendent in 1959 at Westfield, where he remained until his retirement in 1994.

Although he probably never spent much time updating a resume, Spodnik was focused on his own career as well as those of other superintendents. He was a pioneer in the Northern Ohio chapter that grew into one of the country's most active and well-organized regional superintendent organizations. He and others helped start the OTF as q way for superintendents to get access to education and networking opportunities without the cost of attending a national show.

"One of the pillars of the turfgrass industry in Ohio," Ryan DeMay, principal of Field Source Ohio, a sports field consulting firm and the current president of OTF, wrote on Twitter. "Without John Spodnik's reverence for our industry, and those in it, we would not have the integrity, respect, or education we all take for granted today."

Survivors include his wife, Mary, and their children Jennifer, Jeff (Lee) and Jason (Lisa) as well many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Services are scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Waite & Son Funeral Home in Medina, Ohio, with interment to follow at Westfield Cemetery in Westfield Center.

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