Remembering John J. Spodnik

The late former GCSAA president befriended and inspired others throughout his industry journey.


John Spodnik, Mike Hurdzan and Mark Jordan
John J. Spodnik (center) is flanked by2013 Old Tom Morris Award recipient Mike Hurdzan, Ph.D., (left) and Mark Jordan, CGCS, at Westfield Country Club’s North Course. Photos courtesy of Mark Jordan

No need for John J. Spodnik to buy a greeting card. He chose the special delivery option instead.

Spodnik — the 1969 GCSAA president who passed away Aug. 27 at 93 — made a habit of welcoming others in the profession face to face. Ask David Webner.

“The first meeting I ever went to, John came up to me, made me feel important, made me feel I belonged there. I never forgot that,” says Webner, a 43-year GCSAA Class A superintendent at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River, Ohio.

For further evidence, ask Frank Dobie. “When I got my first superintendent job at Sleepy Hollow Golf Course (Brecksville, Ohio) in 1961, he came by and introduced himself and made a point to welcome me to the association. He’s the only one who did that. That speaks volumes about his nature,” says Dobie, superintendent/general manager emeritus at The Sharon Golf Club in Sharon Center, Ohio, a 64-year GCSAA member and 2022 recipient of the USGA Green Section Award.

Spodnik showed something special was brewing early on when he notched a 4.0 grade-point average in high school at Portage Township in Portage, Pa. Before a long and prosperous journey in the golf industry, Spodnik served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He earned a degree from what now is Cleveland State University in industrial engineering and briefly was employed by General Motors in different roles, including methods engineer. Ultimately, his passion for the outdoors won out. Spodnik’s career in golf started by working on the maintenance crew for legendary superintendent and 1952 GCSAA president Mal McLaren at Oakwood Country Club in Cleveland Heights, Ohio (later in his career, Spodnik was the first recipient of the Mal McLaren Award).

Spodnik, who studied turfgrass management through the University of Massachusetts and later IPM soil science through Purdue University, launched a career in the 1950s that gained steam in 1960 with a tenure at Westfield Country Club in Westfield Center, Ohio, that would last nearly 40 years. He mentored dozens of people who would go on to great success. One of them, Mark Jordan, CGCS, followed in Spodnik’s footsteps at Westfield CC. In 1988, Spodnik brought on Jordan, who is still in place at the club as its natural resource leader. Jordan, a 36-year association member, served as GCSAA president in 2021. They forged a bond and friendship that endured.

“He’s a legend that left a legacy. Many legacies. Not only in golf, but also in the community he lived in,” Jordan says. “He taught me patience. He was willing to stick up for me.”

John Spodnik, Mike Hurdzan and Mark Jordan
In recent years, past GCSAA president John Spodnik (left) spent time with the man he mentored, past GCSAA president Mark Jordan, at Westfield Country Club in Westfield Center, Ohio.

Spodnik, a 64-year association member, invested in GCSAA decades ago, presenting at several GCSAA Conference and Trade Shows. In 1969, after becoming GCSAA president, Spodnik said “I have never really explored my philosophy of life in depth, but I heard this statement many years ago, and have kept the thought with me: Do not be satisfied, be better.”

Spodnik was credited with several workplace contributions, including improved hydraulic couplings and reel adjustment screws on the first triplex greens mower from Jacobsen. He also developed a prototype equipment cleaning containment pit and recycling system to reduce soil and water contamination in the maintenance and adjoining areas. In both cases, his assistant Dave Walker was integral in the work.

Here a few examples of the numerous honors bestowed upon Spodnik during his storied career. In 1974, he received the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation’s Professional Excellence Award—he was also the foundation’s director for several years. In 1994, Spodnik was awarded GCSAA’s Col. John Morley Award. An inductee to the Northern Ohio GCSA Hall of Fame, Spodnik was instrumental in the advancement of the chapter and was its secretary/treasurer for more than three decades.

In 2000, Spodnik was given the Achievement & Appreciation Award from the Village of Westfield Center, where he served as a councilman and street commissioner for more than 20 years. He also was heavily involved at The Musser International Turfgrass Foundation in which Dobie has been president since 1988. He cannot imagine anyone better to have been its treasurer for several years. “John was the most professional person I’ve known in the business,” Dobie says. “His integrity was beyond reproach.”

When he thinks of Spodnik, 48-year GCSAA retired member Bill Prest has multiple words to describe the man. “Generous. Kind. Intelligent. He encouraged you to get involved,” says Prest, who was at Springvale Golf Course in North Olmsted, Ohio, when he initially met Spodnik. ‘He was just a leader and brought out the best in everyone. He made people feel good.”

Spodnik is survived by his wife, Mary, and their children Jennifer, Jeff (Lee), and Jason (Lisa) as well as grandchildren Kenzie, Margaret, John, Kyle, and Emily, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.