I attended the funeral of a very close friend the other day.
Kasler was a teacher, coach, friend, and – often – the lead guy in a foursome.
Back in high school, he taught me how to use a band saw and how to draw parallel lines in mechanical drawing. Through no fault of his, I now am more or less as skilled with a band saw as with a four-iron. Which is to say, not at all.
But, as with many of the teachers we remember with fondness later in life, Mr. Hughes (it took me a long time after graduation to address him as Kasler) had an impact far beyond the narrow confines of the classroom. He was one of those educators who understood how important they could be in students’ lives outside the measures of tests and grades.
If a kid – even one not on his class rolls — had a problem, he was there to help. His work didn’t end with the dismissal bell or the final play of football practice. I remember often seeing him driving away from school with one or more students – perhaps those who stayed for after-school practices or other activities — in his orange VW beetle. He was the taxi driver who saved them from miles-long walks home.
When he retired, we reconnected on the golf course. A football and basketball coach, he also tried some golf instruction in an attempt to improve my less-than-majestic golf swing. That perhaps was one of the few failures in his life.
Regardless of quality of play, we had many days of marvelous fun visiting courses across the Carolinas. He was quietly competitive and enjoyed having the day’s best round, but he always wanted everybody to play well and was as thrilled with an opponent making a 30-foot putt as he was hammering in one of his own.
He was adventurous – a woodsman of sorts. I think he enjoyed hunting for wayward golf balls as much as he did playing the game. There is a heavily wooded area to the right on the par-four opening hole of a course we often played. It sometimes took him a while to warm up, and his drive off that tee occasionally sailed into the pines and oaks. No problem. He was off into the forest, wading through high weeds and ignoring potential copperheads in search of his Titleist – and those of other players similarly unfortunate. We’d meet halfway down the fairway, his hands usually heavy with six to eight balls he had rescued from the wilderness.
Our trips to and from golf rounds often were as entertaining as the play. Inside the car, swings were dissected and high school shenanigans were remembered.
On one outing, he and I were in a foursome with another friend, Dennis, who was a rather accomplished golfer, particularly when compared to the rest of us. He usually shot in the mid-70s and took the game quite seriously. On the backside, on a tough par five, he shanked a five iron on his second shot and was so irritated that he immediately snapped the club in two pieces across his knee. He had returned to normal by the time we loaded the car for the trip home. On the way, the discussion turned to favorite courses we had played. “I like to play a course where you have to use every club in your bag,” Kasler said. “Of course, Dennis couldn’t do that now.” Cue uproarious laughter.
Kasler’s health began to decline a few years back, and he eventually had to store his clubs. I’d go by his house occasionally to visit, and he often said the thing he missed most was playing golf. Dementia eventually cut into even those memories, and then the COVID-19 craziness hit, denying visits from those of us who had roamed various fairways with him over the years.
On a sunny and cold winter day, we carried him on the way to his final resting place near his childhood home. There were many more rounds we could have played, many more stories and jokes that could have been shared. We will miss him, particularly on crisp fall days made for golf.
Mike Hembree is a veteran journalist who has covered a variety of sports for numerous publications and websites, including USA Today, Fox Sports, TV Guide and The Greenville (S.C.) News. He has written 14 books and has won numerous writing awards at the national, regional and state levels. He is a seven-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.
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