Obituary: Salesman Thaddeus Nicholas spread the game of golf

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2013 - 9:13 PM
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Thaddeus Nicholas

Thaddeus Nicholas was named salesman of the year four times during his career in the business world, but his biggest sale came when he persuaded owners of local golf courses to allow minorities to play.

It was before the civil rights movement swept the nation that Nicholas negotiated deals with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board that allowed blacks to get tee times. As president of the Twin City Golf Club, he was one of the primary organizers of the Upper Midwest Bronze Memorial Tournament, which he grew into a prestigious event that attracted minority amateur golfers from across the country.

“He was the face of the tournament,” said Vincent Scott, secretary of the Twin City Golf Club, which is the oldest golf club for minorities in the Upper Midwest. “He had the gift of gab and he knew how to persuade big-name sponsors to get behind the tournament.”

Nicholas was a longtime resident of south Minneapolis, but in recent years had been living at the Mayo Clinic’s long-term care center in Lake City, Minn. He died April 24 following a two-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 96.

Nicholas was exposed to golf as a teen while working as a caddie at courses in his native Rochester, Pa., and nearby Beaver Falls. The game got in his blood, said his son, Watson, of Lake City. Thaddeus played golf almost every day, and even in recent years could still shoot a round far below his age, those who knew him said.

He came to the University of Minnesota in the 1950s with plans on becoming a scientist. That changed when he was working at the old Hampshire Arms Hotel as a bellhop. It was there that Nicholas met a couple of businessmen who recognized his ability to talk and develop relationships. They invited him to join their sales team.

After earning his degree in animal science, he worked at General Mills and created the powder that eventually led to Puppy Chow, his son said. He was named salesman of the year at General Mills, an honor he earned three more times during a career that also included stints at Pillsbury and Rasmussen and Associates, a company that sold food and equipment to small restaurants.

Nicholas spent much of his free time at his beloved Hiawatha Golf Course, where he shared the passion for the game with countless others and encouraged them to take it up. He took over running the Bronze Tournament from founder Jimmy Slemmons in the 1970s and built it into a spectacle that featured great food and prizes, and drew more 300 players a year, including boxer Joe Lewis.

“So many people got behind the tournament with all its history and tradition,” said local sports writer and radio talk-show host Larry Fitzgerald. “He was a great guy. He cared about people, the game of golf and growing the sport. He connected and helped so many people learn the game of golf. He made people feel welcome.”

During his 30-year tenure with the Twin City Golf Club, he also founded a caddie program and a tournament for junior players — this year’s is July 25 — to introduce the game to the younger generation.

“He loved golf, and his passion got us into it,” Scott said. “He was a good role model.”

Besides his son, Nicholas is survived by his wife of 71 years, Juanita, of Lake City, and two grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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