Anyone in Fort Wayne would love to have Jan Van Til's Rolodex.
For 35 years, Van Til has been a lot of the soul and a great deal of the backbone for the Mad Anthonys Charity Classic for Children. Everything that goes on with the tournament -- including the professional athletes, actors, performers and political dignitaries who participate, along with sponsors and other arrangements -- gets coordinated through her home office.
It's a comparably easy job for the first six months following the tournament, but for the next six months the pressure increases like each hole on Sunday's back nine at the Masters. Everything reaches a crescendo in one day (this year two), and Van Til has always been responsible for everything except the weather. A few times there's even been some suspicions about that.
``When I get to the tournament day, I'm just glad it's over,'' she said. ``There are problems any time you do an event like this, but it's really downhill from that point on. You know you'll be done and you'll be able to rest for a few days.''
After this year's tournament concludes Monday at Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Van Til, 66, will be able to rest for more than a few days as she's retiring. Her husband Jack retired from Raytheon last year, and they are looking forward to spending the winter in Florida, and understandably, she wants to enjoy spring as more than just a breeze though an open office window.
When she started the job, Van Til had a 4-year-old daughter, a newborn son and a Smith Corona typewriter. The tournament and the kids kept growing, as did Van Til's responsibilities. As she says, it's the kind of job you do because you love it.
``When I think of what that one singular woman has done...,'' long-time Mad Anthonys banquet MC Kent Hormann said, shaking his head in wonder. ``She is one of those hidden treasures in our city that a lot of people don't even know about. The event has always happened, and the one constant has always been Jan Van Til.''
When she announced her intention to retire last year, everyone started scrambling to do the impossible and put together a job description so at least her successors would have that to work with. The title ``tournament coordinator'' doesn't cover half of it. Start with panic solver on one line, ultimate organizer on another. Under abilities, start with the incomprehensible gift and patience to exhaustively nag, beg and somehow convince people to help out without being obnoxious until they give in.
Getting them to return the next year is usually easier because by then everyone owes HER a favor. It's amazing how one housewife can convince possibly the most influential group of men in Fort Wayne do what she suggests like it was their idea in the first place. If it was, then she usually straightened the idea out and made it actually work.
``There's so much that you can't document when you've been through the tournament as much as Jan has,'' former Mad Anthonys president Terry Kitch said. ``Some of it she can't write down because it's in your mind and not necessarily memorialized in print. When we get stuck, I'm sure she'll still be there to refresh our memory and help us out.''
But after this tournament, everyone needs to help Van Til out a little bit with a few prayers. After she wasn't bouncing back as expected from heel surgery, a CT scan in March discovered a spread of abdominal peritoneal cancer tumors. Luckily, they are not in the organs, and the chemotherapy and her own positive outlook and faith are working.
``It's a win-win for me,'' she said. ``Life is always in perspective when you're looking at having or not having your health. I know that God is in control and I will proclaim that to the day I die. My big thing is to do my best in life to glorify God. I don't want people to see me as the hero, but I want them to see that God is very intimate to my life. Yes, it's a problem and I'm dealing with it. I'm grateful for the medical support and I'm grateful for all that God has done for me. A life is a relationship with Jesus, not a religion.''
There's the feeling that with God's help, Van Til can convince the cancer to do what she wants, too. This diagnosis and the treatments have caused her to lose her hair and a little energy, but it has also focused her on making this 55th tournament something special. She always tries for perfection, but this year was supposed to be even more special.
``A lot of our tradition and success has involved Jan,'' current Mad Anthonys president Eric Ottinger said. ``She very much has a servant attitude not only to the sponsors and putting on a first-class event but also with the charities. I can't stress enough her heart for charity.''
That love of helping others is the foundation for everything Van Til does with the tournament and a great deal of her life. It's not a front she puts on or a gimmick she uses to convince others. It's part of her drive.
Van Til can rattle off details of the different groups the Mad Anthonys have helped over the years because she keeps in touch with them. She tours the facilities the donations have helped build like the Mad Anthonys Par Three course at McMillen Park's Lifetime Sports Academy or the swimming hole at Red Cedar Center. Now the focus is on Children's Hope House. Van Til estimates the Mad Anthonys have given between $400,000 and $500,000 as this year will mark the halfway point in a 10-year commitment.
``It's helped a lot of families with sick kids,'' she said. ``I love the Hope House and the people that work there. I appreciate their message and they are doing it on their own. They have to get their own grants and support, and I'm all for them being able to help as many people as possible.''
Next year, Sherri Miller and Janet Chrzan of Vision Management Consultants will take over the tournament organizing with Van Til volunteering advice and shortcuts where necessary. Miller has helped out quite a bit this year. The thought of replacing her must be intimidating.
``She knows when things are really urgent and when they are not,'' Miller said. ``That's her years of experience to not try to jump through hoops for everything that someone might be concerned with. She has it under control.
``It's been a win-win. I really believe this gives her something to be focused on in a time when her life is uncertain, and it's also been wonderful for me to be able to shadow with her. I've been a sponge. I can't say I've learned it, but I'm taking it in. There are lot of details that she just does because she has done them so often.''
The Mad Anthonys and their tournament definitely won't be the same, but Van Til is encouraging them to try new things and keep helping evolving the event without losing the primary focus.
``I consider part of my job is giving back to Fort Wayne and helping make it a better place to live,'' she said. ``It's worth putting your time into a group. You don't always have to make the most money to make the biggest impact. There are a lot of worthwhile things worth doing with your life besides just blowing it up and doing whatever you want. It's important, and we've been blessed, and it's about helping others who need help, and you can spend your time giving back. I love Fort Wayne, I was born and raised here and I'm glad for what we can give back from a life that has been blessed beyond what we ever deserved.''