Ahlbrecht family has steadfast volunteers

KAPALUA — In a sea of approximately 470 volunteers at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course, one couple has never wavered in supporting the tournament.

Nothing, not even a dangerous heart surgery, has kept them away.

Lee and Ann Ahlbrecht of Minnesota have played a key role in the operation of tournaments at Kapalua for more than 20 years.

The Ahlbrechts are chairpersons of the on-course transportation committee, which handles moving volunteers to and from their positions and getting golfers through some of the layout’s tougher terrain.

The way they handled the role changed five years ago, when Lee Ahlbrecht developed a tear in the lining of his aorta. He survived the necessary surgery, but did not emerge unscathed, losing much of his mobility and vocal strength, and has had to scale back his involvement.

The 72-year-old, however, continues to help with paperwork at volunteer headquarters.

“He’s an amazing person,” Ann Ahlbrecht said. “He never loses his spirit and has never been cross. He was in the shower this morning at 4:30 a.m., when the rest of us were still sleeping. By five o’clock, he was completely dressed and ready to roll.”

Ann Ahlbrecht, 67, said her children, who live in Oregon and Minnesota, visit every year to help with their father’s duties during the tournament.

“Because he lost his balance and speech, my children have come to help out,” Ann Ahlbrecht said. “One of them is his legs and the other is his voice.”

The children, LeAnn and John, said they were concerned for their father’s health after the surgery, and wary of his involvement at the tournament.

“We tried to convince him quite often not to volunteer,” said LeAnn Ahlbrecht. “But they love it and they want to do it all the time.”

Lee and Ann Ahlbrecht live in West Maui six to seven months a year.

“You’re always looking for ways to give back to the community,” Ann Ahlbrecht said. “Here you are on Maui; you’re partaking in the park and partaking in the ocean. Coming out of northern Minnesota it’s brutally cold this time of year, so when you come to a place that’s warm and welcoming, this is an opportunity to give back.”

The tournament gave nearly $300,000 to local charities in 2012, and since 1999 has donated close to $4 million.

“When you band together with a group of volunteers, you can accomplish so much more, as a group, than as an individual,” Ann Ahlbrecht said. “The charities this tournament gives to are more than my husband and I can give.”

Volunteer chairman Ed Hogan said volunteers such as the Ahlbrechts put in hundreds of hours during the tournament.

“It’s a top-notch staff,” Hogan said. “Everyone is really experienced. They understand their duties and get their jobs done.”

On Friday, the volunteers had to work through some unpleasant conditions — wind and rain that led to the first round being called off.

“We’ll be up at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow, to get everything re-organized at 5,” said Ann Ahlbrecht. “Last night, we got back at around 7:30 p.m., but then we had paperwork to do and phone calls to make. It’s a long day but this is what we do to give back.”