Another pioneer, Severine G. Leoffler Sr. one of those men who realized the American dream of turning hard work into riches, has died.
Leoffler had the distinction of owning or leasing more than a dozen golf courses although never playing a round of the game in his life.
He was 89 when he died in his sleep early Tuesday morning at his home on Rodman Street NW, and his death was unlike his turmoil-filled life. He seemed to be forever appearing before congressional committees regarding his public courses. He was a tough, hard businessman. But he had another side.
"Dad really believed in people," his son, Severine Jr., said yesterday." His idea was to have golf courses on every corner. He did many things for young golfers, he used to pick up the tab for the Washington boys who competed in the National Public Links Championship.
"It was Dad who gave Lew Worsham his first, full set of golf clubs when Lew won the area caddie championship. Then, in 1947, when Worsham won the U.S. Open in St. Louis, Dad got him to put on a clinic at East Potomac Park the next day. Worsham didn't change anything and neither did Dad."
The senior Leoffler had a fascinating career and he made and lost fortunes along the way.
"It all started in Providence, R.I., where Dad was born in 1887," his son continued. "He had a blind grandmother who had a quirk. She used to go around the poor sections of the city, find families that needed furniture and the like, and she'd lend them money - anything from 50 cents to a couple of hundred dollars.
"Dad used to lead her around and keep her books. He often said tat's where he learned that money can do a lot of good and, he was fond of saying: 'Money isn't necessarily the root of all evil.'"
Leoffler, according to his son, came to Washington in 1908 from pittsburgh where his father worked for Westinghouse. "My grandfather wanted Dad to take a course in pattern-making but Dad said that wasn't exciting enough.
"He came to Washington with $300. The first thing he was sell safety pins to school children, giving jack-knives as incentives.School authorities put a stop to that so he went into the ice cream business. He sold the first roller ice cream cone here. He sold that business for $20,000 and then sold box lunches - two sandwiches, a piece of fruit and freshly baked pastry, all for 10 cents. He sold that business for $100,000 and the guy who bought it went broke in six months."
The resourceful Leoffler broadened his horizons. He went back into the box lunch business during World War I, selling "Leoffler's Liberty Lunches" to government workers for 20 cents.But sometimes he got top ambitious. He decided to come out with square doughnuts and spent a fortune on machinery. He went broke. The public preferred the round dough out.
Leoffler was the high bidder for East Potomac Park in 1921, then a nine-hole course. He and the government expanded that to 36 holes. He built the Ft. Dupont and Langston courses and spent $50,000 of his money to improve each course. He once owned Beaver Dam, now Prince Georges, and the old Annapolis Roads club. He installed a minature golf course at East Potomac and although many putt-putt courses died during World War II, his miniature course has flourished.
It was Leoffler who first brought hockey here in 1939, as well as the first Ice Follies at the old Riverside Stadium, an open-air arena.
One time, in Florida, Leoffler reflected on his life in Washington. "I had a lot of headaches and heartaches over the years," he said, "but the fact Washington has some of the finest (and cheapest) municipal courses in the country - and the fact that golf is for everybody, not the rich alone - is all the reward I ever needed."