Kiwanis Club honors Tom Bryan for 25 years of service
By Rebekah Martin
Nearly 150 people gathered at the Saugahatchee Country Club last Friday night for a couple of important reasons. The 25th annual Kiwanis Celebrity Golf Classic, co-sponsored by the Opelika Kiwanis Club and the Auburn Football Letterman’s Club, had just ended and, according to event co-organizer Rusty Sheehan, was another successful event. Sheehan and the dinner’s guest of honor have been the event’s primary organizers for the entire 25 years and are responsible for more than $600,000 to charity over that period.
The event was disguised as the annual dinner wrapping the day’s festivities, but Sheehan had a few surprises in store for the guest of honor, Tom Bryan. Unbeknownst to Bryan, Sheehan, the Opelika Kiwanis Club and a host of volunteers had been working behind-the-scenes to surprise him with a “This is Your Life”-themed celebration in honor of his hard work and dedication through the years. Master of Ceremonies Jeff Shearer, AU Sports Information Director, opened the night with an introduction of Bryan. “For the past 50 years, Tom’s life has revolved around Auburn football and Auburn University. He loved the area so much that he made it his home for 47 years while working with State Farm Insurance,” Shearer said. “Tom and his wife, Mary Lynn, are proud of their daughter Kali, who is following in her father’s footsteps with a career with State Farm. Not only is Tom a good neighbor, he is a true Auburn man.”
Coinciding with the golf tournament’s anniversary, this year marks 50 years since Bryan’s days as quarterback and fullback at Auburn University. In honor of that, a few of his former teammates and coaches were present. Bryan played for the legendary Ralph “Shug” Jordan and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1965 Liberty Bowl, a game the Tigers lost to the Ole Miss Rebels.
The night featured family and friends of Bryan telling jokes and stories of years gone by. Special guests included Bryan’s sisters Pansy and Stephanie, Lloyd Nix, Jim Bailey and Larry Blakeney. While unable to attend in person, Milton McGregor, Vince Dooley, Tucker Frederickson, Dr. James Andrews and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller sent videos congratulating Bryan.
In further recognition of Bryan, the Opelika Kiwanis Club fulfilled a wish of his as a final surprise. Sheehan said Bryan has a heart of service for veterans, and wanted to procure an emotional support or service dog to be donated to a veteran struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Kiwanis Club secretly found and purchased such a dog via Auburn-based Global K9 Solutions. Lizzie and Fanie Benecke demonstrated for Bryan and the audience some of the things the dog is able to do. The dog, whose name will be Tom Bryan, is currently undergoing extensive training to become a service dog. These kinds of highly-trained service animals can cost tens of thousands of dollars and are trained to turn lights on and off, sweep rooms and block oncoming threats from harming their owner. Lizzie, who is an Iraqi War veteran herself, a Lt. Col. in the Army Reserve, said she knows just how a service dog can change the life of a veteran struggling with PTSD.
Concluding the event, long-time friend and local celebrity Jody Fuller entertained the crowd and Ron Anders, Auburn city councilman and Opelika city council president Eddie Smith presented proclamations naming Sept. 30 “Tom Bryan Day” in the sister cities.
Sheehan said Bryan is very deserving of the recognition. “We love him and we appreciate him for the work that he has put into this.
“He is a caring person, he really loves other people and helps people that are not known by everybody. He’s just a good citizen,” Sheehan said.
Bryan expressed his gratitude to those in attendance and said he did not expect all the recognition and praise he received. “There are so many people that are responsible for so much of this event. I want to thank y’all for all the kind things that you have done and said about me today,” Bryan said. “It’s certainly been a mind-blowing experience, I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect it. Maybe because I don’t think I deserve it, and I’m still not convinced that I do, but thank you. I can absolutely guarantee you that I appreciate it. All I can tell you is that I really do appreciate it, and getting the opportunity, we’re going to turn around and do it even better next year.”
Sheehan said that he was pleased with how the evening turned out. “The bottom line is that I talked to the person we were honoring, Tom Bryan, and he was just floored and could not say enough about how appreciative he was of what people had done for him,” Sheehan said. “We were doing it for him and he got the effect and we gave him the honor he deserves.”