Super Volunteer Says 'Walk 14 Miles in My Shoes'
By Kelly Hill
As a matter of reference, most championship golf courses measure less than four miles in length.
Try to imagine walking your favorite golf course four and a half times -- before 5 a.m. That's 81 holes, before breakfast.
Jim Pharms, a 47-year-old volunteer at the Senior PGA Tour's Foremost Insurance Championship in Grand Rapids, walked last year to the tournament course at Egypt Valley Country Club from his home in southwest Grand Rapids, a distance measuring approximately 18 miles. Despite numerous offers -- even from one of the touring pros -- to provide rides, Pharms plans at least one walk to Egypt Valley this year, probably on the first day of the August tournament.
When his volunteer shift began at 5 a.m., Pharms, expecting an average walking pace of three miles per hour, left his home at 11 p.m.
"You don't have to go to the mall to do power walks," said Pharms, a diabetic whose vision is partially impaired. "I want to walk out to the tournament on the first day, then I'd like to do it again on the last day. After the last putt of the tournament is made on 18, I'd like to walk home."
A graduate of Three Rivers High School whose foster parents moved him to Grand Rapids in 1971, Pharms served for 15 years in the United States Army and Marine Corps. From 1974-78, Pharms served as a cook in the First Battalion 59th Air Defense Artillery, 8th Infantry Division, Wackerheim, Germany. The mess officer for the last year of that stint was Lieutenant Lawrence J. Phelan, who now is an attorney in Grand Rapids.
"Little did I know that I would ever run into him in Grand Rapids," Phelan said of Pharms. "I was an officer and he was enlisted, but I got to know him because I was the mess officer," Phelan continued. "He seemed like a real good guy. He was real conscientious and always wanted to do a good job." Pharms is now a maintenance professional who also works with the American Red Cross in crisis management.
"He was a good soldier and a good man," Phelan said. "He was always respectful and he was a pleasant guy to be around. He has a great sense of humor and he's is a very good guy."
In addition to his volunteer work at the Foremost Insurance Championship, Pharms volunteers for the Red Cross, the American Arthritis Foundation and last year volunteered at the inaugural running of the West Michigan Grand Prix. "I volunteer so that I can help people who need help," Pharms said. "I like to help programs succeed. The golf tournament is people helping people."
The Foremost Insurance Championship, which had been known as the First of America Classic, regularly donates proceeds to a variety of West Michigan charities. He walks to the tournament because "cars are too expensive," and because "I like walking. I am showing people that I am making an effort," Pharms said. "Whatever you want in life -- do it. Put aside any handicaps and do it. Take the first step and then complete whatever it is you start. You can accomplish anything in life. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Pharms, who has acted as a course marshall and served in various other volunteer capacities during the Senior PGA tournament in Grand Rapids, did accept rides to last year‚s event from Hope Network, but it seems that he would rather walk. "I meet people all along the way," Pharms said. "I stop and I chat a bit.
"I like helping out and I like walking," said Pharms, who also has been taken aback by the media attention his walking has received. "I'm just trying to help other people. I do have a mission in life and this is part of it. First, I'm doing God's work. Second, I watch golf on T.V. and I don't see handicapped people getting involved. I see the handicapped involved in Special Olympics, but I don't see the (Senior) PGA doing anything like that. I would like to see the Senior PGA get more involved. They should try to make it easier for handicapped people to get out and play golf. I want to bring people out, and I would like to see some sort of event like that in Grand Rapids.
Pharms has spent up to a month at a time volunteering for the Red Cross when a disaster strikes. "We need to help each other," Pharms said.
"That's what it's all about."
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