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Honoring a son: the ‘D.J.’ Dale Leo Clemmons Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

July 22, 2004, was the worst day of Dale Clemmons’ life. On that day, he and his wife, Rose, came face to face with the unimaginable horror that all parents fear.
The death of a child.
Dale Leo Clemmons Jr., affectionately known as D.J. to his friends and family, was a happy-go-lucky young man of 22 years, on the cusp of adulthood and the realization of dreams. He worked in his father’s landscaping business (Carolina Tree) in Supply. He had lots of friends. He loved kids and best of all—he would have his own child in just a few weeks.   
Life had not been easy for D.J. and his family. A severe heart murmur had sent the family to Duke University when he was a young boy.   
“He was diagnosed and treated at Duke,” Dale Clemmons said. “He was up there a lot and then referred to doctors at New Hanover. He was a real Guinea pig; they fussed over him and checked him out so much. They told us that when D.J. reached his 40s he would probably need a heart valve replacement.”  
D.J. grew up in a busy and loving home. There were seven children in the Clemmons’ home, and others that came and went as needed.
“Our home was open to all our kids’ friends,” Dale said. “Some would stay overnight, some would live with us for a few weeks; others lived with us for years. We provided a home for kids who needed a place to stay. Sometimes, I’d wake up the middle of the night and bump into some kid. He’d say, ‘D.J. said I could stay here, Mr. Dale.’ That’s how our house was.
“We never let the kids lay around doing nothing. They’d help at the house or in my business. They learned responsibility here.”
On the night he died, D.J. was going to the movies with some friends and came in to see his dad before he left.    
“He said goodbye, gave me a hug and said, ‘I love you, Daddy.’  Those were the last words I ever heard from my son.”
Dale Sr. was tired that night. It had been a long, hot brutal day at work and he needed peace and quiet, and a long hot shower. He turned off his cell phone and pager.
Just after midnight, there was a knock on the door. An officer stood there, telling Dale and Rose that there had been an accident. D.J. was in the hospital.  
“I kept telling myself that nothing was wrong. When we got to the hospital, they told us that D.J. was gone. Rose collapsed, crying. She knew it was true, but I kept insisting that he was OK, that nothing was wrong.”
It wasn’t until the next morning, that Dale finally accepted the fact that his son was gone.  
“It was a terrible kind of pain, something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. I couldn’t control my body. I trembled and shook and cried and moaned.”  
During the next week, friends and family came to visit and comfort Rose and Dale.    
“Over a thousand people come to the house,” Dale said. “I expected a couple hundred, but more and more people kept coming in the door. So many people reached out to us in our time of need, so many people had loved our son.”
The accident was a fluke, a horrific unexpected incident. D.J. had pulled his truck over to the side of the road to talk to someone in another vehicle. The bank at the side of the road collapsed, the truck tumbled sideways and D.J., who did not have his seat belt on, plunged sideways and hit his head on the window casing. According to reports, he died instantly.  
“D.J. didn’t do anything wrong. He was just sitting there talking to his friend,” explained Dale.  “I couldn’t accept what had happened and for two years, I was mad at God. ‘Take me,’ I said, to God. ‘Don’t take my son.’”
As time went by, the family recovered from their loss, but D.J.’s memory was always present.  
 “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of D.J.,” Rose said.  
“Looking back, it was almost as though D.J. knew that his time was limited,” Dale said. “He’d say, ‘Let me try this,’ or ‘Let me do this. I might not live that long.’ For his few years, he lived a rich, full life.”
“It’s been five years since we lost D.J., and we want to create something positive that will a memorial to our son,” Rose said. “Because he was treated at Duke University Children’s Hospital, we thought that a golf tournament with the proceeds going to the Children’s Miracle Network would be the best way to do it.”  
The Children’s Miracle Network raises money for children’s hospitals. Duke University will be the local recipient.
Dale’s business, Carolina Tree, has been doing work in the Lockwood Folly community since it was built and that seemed the ideal place for the tournament. Dale spoke to the Property Owners Association about it.  
“We’ve known the Clemmons family for years, and we immediately agreed to have the tournament here,” said Jill Notter of the Lockwood POA. “Lockwood is a very caring place and since we own our own golf course, we could say yes right away.”
Myrna Robinson is the tournament chairwoman for the event.
“We had no problem getting volunteers,” she said. “I sent out an e-mail and had dozens of positive responses by the next morning. We have over 100 volunteers signed up. It will be both a golf tournament and a family day to honor D.J. and his family.”
Food for the day will be supplied by the Golden Corral in Monkey Junction. Golden Corral is a national sponsor for the Children’s Miracle Network.
For the golfers, there will be four hole-in-one prizes donated by Jones Ford: a 2010 Ford Ranger, a cruise for two to St. Thomas, a cruise for two to the Bahamas and a weekend in Pinehurst for two. There will also be a beat- the-pro putting contest and a longest-drive contest. The cost for a four-man team is $300.  
“We wanted the day to be a family day, not just a golf tournament,” Dale said, “so we have face painting, a bouncy building and a fishing contest for the kids. At the end of the day, members of Company D. Adams Battery, 13th Battalion of the North Carolina Light Artillery, will shoot off a real Civil War cannon. I expect they may fire it more than once, if they get into it.”   
May 1 will be an emotional day for the Clemmons family and their friends as they honor D.J.   
The highlight of the event will not be the golf competition, or someone winning a new Ford Ranger with a hole-in-one. It will not even be the firing of the ancient cannon over the still waters of the Lockwood Folly salt marshes.  
It will be when Dale LaShay Clemmons, the beautiful 5-year-old daughter of D.J., comes forward to present the trophy to the winning team.  
D.J. never saw this red-haired beauty, never held her, comforted her or read her bedtime stories. She was born 12 days after he died.
I have a feeling that D.J. will somehow be there that day.
There are still a few openings for the tournament and the festivities. Call Jill Notter (842-8226) or Myrna Robinson (842-9892) to register for golf or to make a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network. Non-golfers are welcome to attend the festivities and enjoy the food but are asked to make a $5 donation.

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.