Par for the Course Azalea Charities Gives Back with Annual Azalea Classic

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By Elizabeth Kirkland

In October 1997 when Montclair resident Frank Lasch, Sr., and fellow Lion Larry Pergerson, formerly of Montclair, got together at the HyltonBoys and Girls Club to put on a “Time to Give” telethon to raise money for Prince William County Boys and Girls Clubs, Prince William County’s Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC), area homeless shelters ACTS and SERVE, the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts (they raised more than $26,000 for the charities), any onlooker would have said that the fundraiser was, at the very least, a success. But no one could have predicted the success that would be had with Azalea Charities—an idea that came about as a result of a trip Pergerson and Lasch made the following year to Augustine Golf Course in Stafford County.What April of 1998, Pergerson and Lasch met with Tom Lernihan, the head golf professional at Augustine Golf Club, to see if he would be interested in doing a golf event to raise funds for Special Olympics of Prince William County and Fredericksburg and for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Prince William County. Lernihan was interested, and during the third meeting between Pergerson, Lasch and Lernihan, Lasch suggested that a pro-am event be held in October to raise money. Lernihan, however, had another idea; wait until spring of 1999 when the golf course was prettiest to hold the event. In April 1999, the trees and the azaleas would be in full bloom, he told them.And so the Azalea Classic Pro-Am Invitational—named for the Virginia’s abundance of the flowering shrubs—was born.

Golf professionals from all over the Middle Atlantic Professional Golf Association (MAPGA) were invited to participate in that first tournament, and the $32,000 raised during that year’s event was distributed equally between Special Olympics Virginia and Boys and Girls Clubs.

Following the success of the first Azalea Classic, then-senior vice president of BB&T (Mortgage Division) Gary Martin, and Dean

F. Morehouse, president of Maryland-based MTM Builder/Developer, who had sponsored the event, said that they and their clients enjoyed the event so much that they’d like to see it continue.

The rest, as they say, is history. Based on Martin’s and Morehouse’s words of support, Azalea Charities incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia. They received their charter on Jan. 19, 2000.

Now, more than 13 years after Pergerson and Lasch put on “Time to Give,” Azalea Charities is planning its 11th Azalea Classic May 1–3 at the Piedmont Club—the home of the Azalea Classic. What’s more: the tournament has become the biggest pro-am in the state of Virginia.

The three-day Azalea Classic will begin this year with 100 or so Special Olympic athletes and members of the local Boys and Girls Clubs participating in a clinic as well as in course play. e actual tournament will be held May 2–3. Lasch said he expects  to have a full field of 34–36 players from the MAPGA, including past winners Chip Sullivan, John Stone, Wayne DeFrancesco, Rick Schuller, Jim Estes and Eric Cobb. Also participating this year in the invitational pro-am tournament will be World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, whose 31 wins rank her second in wins among all active players on the LPGA Tour.

“This year’s tournament again, if successful as we hope it will be, will raise the bar that we hope will also be something other community residences and businesses will move to in support,” Lasch said. “Maybe it also opens the doors that more contributions will be seen by the charities we support. This is good as well—the key is to provide financial assistance to the nonprofits we support so that it will lessen the burden on them, allow them to spend more time on creating good, sound programs and at the same time give them a break and allow them to be able to spend more time with their families at night. So whether the funds come directly to us or the respective organizations we support or a combination, we will all win and the communities will be a better place for it.”

Lasch said the success of the tournaments allows for Azalea Charities to make even bigger contributions in support of its missions.

Sullivan, PGA director of golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va., who is among the golfers who will be participating in the Azalea Classic this May, has participated in a number of Azalea Classic tournaments.

“If they think it’s helpful for me to be there, I’m going to make every effort I can to be there,” he said.

Sullivan’s wife’s cousin, Kevin Naniewicz, 32, of Scott Township, Pa., is a Special Olympian, and for that reason, the Azalea Classic is especially important to him.

“He looks forward each year to (the Azalea Classic),” Sullivan said. “And of course he thinks it’s the U.S. Open and we make him feel like it is. It’s a special day for him.”

Naniewicz, who was born with Down syndrome, hopes to be able to participate in this year’s Azalea Classic.

“Kevin is a little limited physically,” said Naniewicz’s mother, Shirley. “Many sports he hasn’t been able to participate in, but golf he seemed to take a liking to and he’s very good at it.”

In fact, he enjoys the sport so much that he has taken over the family’s spare bedroom, putting in it every night.

“I think that’s why he does so well,” Shirley said. Lasch believes the future for Azalea Charities is bright.

“Every month we see new interest in our organization in wanting to help raise funds to do things we do best,” he said.

In addition to the Azalea Classic, Azalea Charities is also involved in the Marine Corps Marathon.

Azalea Charities, which raises in excess of $200,000 each year, is, unlike other charities, a dual-mission charity. ey reach out to local communities as well as to “Aid for Wounded Warriors”—a project they began in 2004 to lift the spirits and enhance the morale of military men and women who have been injured in the line of duty.

“As members of the Lions Club, our motto was, ‘We Serve’; today, Azalea Charities’ motto is ‘We’re Giving Together.’ We love our communities and we love our military men and women and their families. Can you think of a better reason to help?”

azaleaAzalea Charities wishes to thank the sponsorsof the 2011 Azalea Classic, which includeMTM  Builder/Developer,  Administaff,Harvey Cleary, Chenega Federal

Systems and Old Hickory Golf Club. For more information about becoming a sponsor, contact Frank Lasch  at

Azalea Charities core communitycharities consist of the following:


■     The Prince William County (Dale City), Manassas, Fredericksburg, Alexandria and Falls Church Boys and Girls Clubs

■     Special Olympics of Virginia


■     ACTS, SERVE and House of Mercy homeless shelters of Prince William County, and Carpenter Shelter of Alexandria

■     The Leukemia/Lymphoma Society and local families affected by leukemia and lymphoma

■     The Juvenile Diabetes Society and local families affected by juvenile diabetes

■     The Arlington Reading Connection and schools and teachers


Azalea Charities has also partnered with several organizations wanting to support military men and women. One such organiza- tion is the Quality of Life Foundation, located in Woodbridge, whose main mission is to reach out to the caregivers of wounded military men and women.

For more information about Azalea Charities, or to become avolunteer, contact Kevin Cheezum or Frank Lasch, at



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