3/12/2013 9:28:00 AM Influential Heath lived a full life, left his mark on Crawford County
The Robinson Open drew statewide, and national, attention to the event. Above, Heath, left, talks with Gov. Richard Ogilvie during the tournament in a photo from the 1971 program. (Daily News archives)
A local memorial service for a well-known native son of Robinson is planned Saturday.
Richard J. "Dick" Heath, Johnston City, died Thursday in Herrin Hospital following several months of failing health. The grandson of Heath candy company founder L.S. Heath was 81.
The memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Pulliam Funeral Home, Robinson.
Born May 21, 1931, in Robinson, Heath was the son of Everett "Skiv" and Madeline (Shanks) Heath-Lipman. While growing up, he would later recall, he would at times accompany his father while on business for L.S. Heath and Sons, the family business.
While attending Robinson High School, Heath was a varsity football player for three years and a varsity basketball player for four. He attended Duke University for two years on a basketball scholarship and later transferred to the University of Illinois.
Heath was named to the board of directors of his family's company at the age of 20, following his father's death. After graduating from U of I, he joined the U.S. Army and served in France as a first lieutenant in 1954 and 1955. He then returned to Robinson and L.S. Heath and Sons, eventually becoming vice president and treasurer. He would hold those positions until his ouster during an internal struggle in 1969.
While with the company, Heath originated the Heath ice cream bar. Following in his father's footsteps, he traveled the country selling the formula and toffee ingredients to vendors who made ice cream.
Heath drew national attention to Robinson in the 1960s with the Robinson Open Golf Classic. An avid golfer, Heath started the event after becoming an official at the Crawford County Country Club (now Quail Creek, a name Heath said he coined) in 1962.
Retired Robinson businessman Jack Chamblin recalled it was Heath who spearheaded remodeling the clubhouse and building the pro shop and locker rooms. He also built the rental units around the lake and sold them to the club at a reduced cost.
At the time, the golf course had only nine holes. Heath convinced Dr. Sam Allen to give the club 100 acres of adjacent land on which to build a back nine. In return, Heath gave Allen a lifetime membership in the country club. Later, Heath himself would be named an honorary life member for his contributions to the club.
The country club could not cover the $75,000 purse of the professional golf open when it began in 1968, so Heath, after putting up some of his own money, raised funds through selling shares and getting local residents and businesses to donate. Robinson was the smallest community to ever host a PGA tournament.
Heath also was instrumental in getting the Robinson Community Center built. When fund raising efforts by the Chamber of Commerce stalled, Heath convinced Marathon Oil officials to donate, bringing in enough money to secure a federal grant to help pay for construction costs.
Heath was the focus of a feature story in the Oct. 6, 1969, issue of Sports Illustrated. The Mark Mulvoy-penned article, entitled "Here's To You, Mr. Robinson - the Pros Love You..." (a play on lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson") and mentioned Robinson native James Jones.
Years later, when he, like Jones, became an author, Heath would remember Mulvoy's title.
His love of golf led Heath to a new career - that of golf course development consultant for Golf Technologies, a golf course design company.
In 1971, Heath helped develop Oak Meadows Country Club north of Evansville, Ind. He moved to Evansville five years later. He would later relocate to Johnson City. He would also develop a nine-hole course at Marion.
Not all his plans panned out. In 1988, Heath ran afoul of federal authorities and was accused of wire and mail fraud in connection with a coal-reclamation project. He served four years in prison.
Heath's career as an author began with the December 1994 publication of Bittersweet: The Story of the Heath Candy Company. Co-written with Tales Press publisher Ray Elliott, the book was a sometimes unflattering history of his family from its arrival in Crawford County in the early 1800s to the purchase of L.S. Heath and Sons by Leaf Inc.
"It's the antithesis of the American Dream - or it's the end of the American Dream," Heath told the Daily News when the book came out. "And it's getting wilder all the time."
Although controversial, the book proved popular; its first small-press run quickly sold out and a second edition by a larger publisher was issued in May 1995.
"The response to the book has been nothing short of spectacular," Heath said. "It used to be that everyone I talked with told me that the Heath bar was their favorite candy bar and how good it was. Now they tell me they've read the book and how much they liked it."
Bittersweet also discussed the Robinson Open, a subject he would return to in greater detail in his second book, Here's to You Robinson: The Pros Loved You - The Story of the Cinderella Tournaments of the PGA Tour. Co-written with Michelle Chester-Robinson, the 2001 book told how Robinson came to host a PGA Tournament event attended by the likes of Bob Hope, Evel Knievel, Ronald and Maureen Reagan and Lee Trevino, among others.
The following year, Heath and Chester-Robinson told the story of Oak Meadow and its "Presence." In it, he detailed the development of the country club and the possible influence of a ghost he believed haunted it.