At 95, Hagerstown woman is right on par

September 19, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

Mildred "Neale" Baltz is frustrated.

She can't play golf for several more weeks.

A compression fracture of a vertebra has sidelined her since the end of July.

She and her doctor figure that it happened when she was pulling an elm seedling from her flower garden.

The injury is keeping her from Monday-Wednesday-Friday golf dates - "Just nine holes," she emphasized - but not her Thursday morning art classes or the rest of her schedule. That includes 45 minutes of exercises she's been doing every other evening since the '60s. And she's been easing back into her swing, hitting whiffle golf balls in her backyard.

Baltz is 95 years old. She'll be 96 next month.

Yes, that's nine holes of golf three times a week.

She's determined to be back on the links.

She's been determined before, coming back after being laid up for weeks two years ago when she broke her thighbone.


"I just love it," she said. "And then I married a man who was just crazy about it."

Baltz and her husband, Dick, who died in 2004, were charter members of Beaver Creek Country Club east of Hagerstown and joined Fountain Head Country Club when they moved to Hagerstown's North End in 1965. Dick Baltz won the "Super Senior" division of the club's championship in 2003 at age 91.

For years the couple played together in Fountain Head's Sunday afternoon Twilight Golf outings.

Winning approach

Before this setback, Neale Baltz continued to play in the once-a-month contests. Her usual partner is Jim Dalton, the club's food and beverage director.

Dalton said he's not known for his golf game, but teamed with another couple, he and Baltz won the June contest.

"It just means so much to me," he said of playing with Baltz. He called her a "real joy and a pleasure."

Because Dalton's family was moving into a new home the day of the July Twilight outing, Ryan Allen, the country club's 23-year-old second assistant golf pro, played with Baltz.

Their foursome won.

"She's great to play with. Her personality is just so bright," Allen said. You'd never know she's almost 96 years old, he added. "She's all there."

Baltz laments that her long ball is gone. She stressed that the Twilight matches are "scrambles," and the Fountain Head Ladies Nine Hole Member-Guest is a "best-ball" tournament. One player might contribute a good drive, and another can chip well.

Baltz has played in 41 annual member-guest matches.

"It's not how you drive, it's how you arrive," said Shirley Barnhart, Ladies Nine Hole chairwoman.

"She shoots in the 60s for nine holes," said Darren Smith, head golf professional at Fountain Head.

That's about an average nine-hole score for women at the club, Allen said.

"She's still going strong," he added. "It's wonderful."

Baltz is great at chipping and putting, Dalton said, recalling that she sank a 30-foot chip shot on the first hole in the June contest.

Suzy Imes would agree.

The daughter of Baltz's longtime friend and fellow golfer Noni Deeds has teamed with Baltz in several Ladies Nine Hole Member-Guest tournaments at the club.

They won the 2004 and 2005 contests.

Baltz misses her golf, but she's not bored.

She reads two daily newspapers plus the weekly publication with news of her homeplace in Bealton, Va. She plans her television viewing on Sundays, circling listings for "the boys" - the Baltimore Orioles.

She was "heartbroken" by Rafael Palmeiro's suspension following a positive steroid test.

If there's a Washington Nationals game on at the same time, she flips between channels, and she regularly watches "The Lawrence Welk Show" on Sunday afternoons. She and her husband of more than 56 years always watched together.

"I miss him," she said shortly after his death. "But we always had fun."

Long wait, happy couple

The two met at a rooftop party in New York City in the early 1930s. Mildred Neale was swinging on a swing.

She was working on her master's degree at Columbia University during the summers from 1933 to 1936, while she was employed as supervisor of schools in Greenville County, Va.

Mildred ? nobody calls her "Mildred" ? Neale was the fourth of Wayland Dunaway and Mary Virginia Neale's nine children. All but two went to college, something that was important to her mother, who, married at 17, didn't have a chance to do the same.

The young Virginia educator and Dick Baltz dated off and on during the early 1930s, but in 1936, she was hired as a consultant for Macmillan Publishing Co. She traveled in a company car to 32 states, giving demonstration lessons and lectures on how to teach reading.

She took her golf clubs with her.

In 1946, she was recruited by the Pentagon to set up and supervise the school for the children of Americans serving in postwar Berlin.

Dick Baltz had served in the Navy in Europe during World War II and had lost track of the girl in the swing. Back home, he and a friend tried to recall the words of a song. Dick Baltz knew that Mildred Neale would know the lyrics, so he sent a letter to her parents' Virginia farm. She received the message.

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