Most of us know of Arnold Palmer as the handsome, hard-charging golf legend, the man who popularized the game in the early years of television. After he left competitive golf, Palmer continued to reign as “The King,” spearheading fundraising efforts, making personal appearances, hosting golf tournaments… so many things. But for a special few in Latrobe, Pa., he was a neighbor and friend, a man to share a few laughs with in the local pub, to discuss the things that friends talk about, the great issues of the day, family matters, maybe even a casual round of golf. John Rusbosin was one of these friends.
Rusbosin is a retired furniture store owner in Latrobe whose family-owned business was begun by his father, Bob, in 1963, a year Palmer won seven times on the PGA Tour. All 11 of the Rusbosin children worked in the store, gaining sales experience, working with customers, etc. John Rusbosin completed a marketing degree from the University of Dayton and eventually became an owner of the store and its president. He joined the local Jaycee and Rotary organizations which he describes as “two of my joys.” Rusbosin Sr. died in 2008 and John managed the store until its closing in 2019.
“I became a caddy at the Laurel Vally Golf club in the 60s,” Rusbosin says. “It was there I learned about Arnold Palmer. Later, as a young member at Latrobe Country Club, I met Arnie and he asked me to join the Men’s Golf Committee. That confidence in me opened my eyes to helping others. I became a friend and over the next four decades was lucky to have access to Mr. Palmer and his right-hand man and confidant, Doc Giffin. It still seems like a dream come true.”
Rusbosin says that Palmer guided his charitable work with emphasis on the values of respect and generosity. Even when an event ended, Palmer would turn to him and ask, “Is there anything else I can do?”
In this series of “Inside the Ropes With Arnie,” Rusbosin shares some memories of times spent with Palmer, and the priceless treasures and friendships that came his way as a result. Every so often we’ll add a new Arnie memory and photos from Rusbosin. Who knows? By the time the GHS meets up in Latrobe during its annual meeting this fall, we might come to know Arnie, the friend and neighbor, a bit better.
a special tractor (no, not that one)
In the fall of 2013 I was contacted by Jerry Moynihan, a legendary Wilson and Bridgestone rep, to ask Arnie about autographing a very special item. Jerry’s friend, Jim Lucas, a commercial landscaper from Murrysville, Pa., owned a nearly identical tractor (it’s a 1957 vintage) to the 1947 Toro that is identified with Arnie and Latrobe CC. He wanted to restore it and hoped Arnie might sign it. He turned to Jerry, and Jerry to me. Doc Giffin helped make the plan work to get Arnie to autograph it once Jim completed the restoration.
One day in mid-September 2013 the work was done and the tractor brought to Latrobe. We all waited outside till Arnie finished his appointments and could join us to see the restored tractor. His surprise and joy was obvious as he gazed at the remarkable result. He immediately autographed the hood and asked Jim Lucas if he could take it for a ride. Jim agreed. Arnie got in, cranked it up and away he went with Lucas at his side. As the two of them drove up and down Arnie’s long drive, coming quite near my car (a nervous moment for me), you could tell that it brought back memories of his youth and driving the original tractor for his dad, Deacon Palmer.
As Arnold finished his ride and was dismounting, he called me out, saying “Johnny, thanks!” with his iconic big thumbs up. Nothing more was said. I understood. His smile and actions said it all.
The happiness was magical with Arnie.
Jim Lucas sealed the signature and occasionally displays it at tractor shows around the country. The rumor was Toro wanted to buy it, but Jim insists his dream will stay with his family.
Doc Giffin, Bob Demangone and the inner team of Gina Varrone and Debbie Rushnock shared the fun and spirit. Jerry, Doc and I took pride in our involvement.
It’s another memorable story being inside the ropes with Arnie.
arnie and baseball
Arnie loved baseball. He played in high school. Many times he would buy two recliners from me at a time. For years Winnie sat with him to watch games, then, in the later years, Kit Palmer was at his side watching every Pirate game. Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente were some of his favorites.
My collection includes a baseball and bat autographed by Arnie displayed next to my Bill Mazeroski set and just a few feet from my Dick Groat set.
When Arnie was in Greater Latrobe Senior High School he idolized and was jealous of Babe Johns, a wonderful pitcher from the rival Derry High School.
In 1933, Babe opened a hangout bar called “Babes Place” that featured a legendary pizza. The business is still operated by his grandchildren and is now called Ianni’s with four locations with home-style pizza and food.
It has always intrigued me that my idol’s high school idol was a baseball player.
Former players from the Pittsburgh Pirates often get together for golf. Dick Groat is often on hand and loves to visit, tell stories, and mingle. Arnold loved these guys and loved him.
By John Rusbosin
The original charcoal on the right, above, was done by NFL Hall of Fame artist Gary Thomas around 1955. Gary was at Pine Ridge Golf Club in Painsville, Ohio, to meet with Dante Lavelli who, like me, worked in the furniture business.
Thomas drew the young Arnold Palmer who was then in the Coast Guard. Gary gave the drawing to Dante who brought it to me years later, to gift to Arnie who gave him an autographed golf glove as a thank-you. Our mutual friend Pete Ort, the owner of Ort Furniture, made the connections.
I had 10 copies made of the drawing for family and Pete Ort. The limited black and white copies were autographed by Arnie for some of my avid golfer family members.
Years later, Arnie’s wife, Winnie, called me to say Arnie wanted to give me the original charcoal. She asked should he just autograph it or personalize it. That kind of surprise takes your breath away. I asked him to please personalize it to me. It was quite special that they even remembered that I was the conduit to get it to them.
The painting on the left was done by Brad Brewer. I call it “Charging.” Brad wrote the book Mentored by the King. Arnie introduced me to Brad just after their final interview for the book. Since then, Brad and his former wife and partner, Wanda Brewer Ickes, have become good friends.
That was what friendship with Arnie was like. He opened doors to so many memorable contacts and friendships. Brad and Wanda have helped me with many charitable causes. When my friends visit their Brad Brewer Golf Academy at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando, they treat my friends like family. That reflects the Palmer Culture.
photos of priceless times
By John Rusbosin
Arnold Palmer was and always will be a person I idolized. I was very lucky to be close and have personal access for over four decades. But, in truth, every encounter was a thrill and joy to be near a person who so influenced and inspired me.
Throughout our acquaintance, Mr. Palmer opened doors and relationships that I cherish. This series begins with a photo of a shelf in my home that showcases just a few folks that I came to know because of Arnie.
At the far right is a photo of Arnie with his dear buddy Howdy Giles. Howdy’s book, The King and I: An Unlikely Journey from Fan to Friend, 2009, is one of my treasures. This retired dentist joined Latrobe CC in the mid 70s and his longtime friendship with Arnold Palmer is legendary. He became my friend because of Arnie.
The picture of Arnie and Jack at Augusta is a favorite. Arnie autographed it and both legends exemplify all that is good. I met Jack nose to nose at Latrobe CC as my wife and I were talking with Winnie Palmer during a fundraising exhibition for Latrobe Hospital. He came through the crowd to give Winnie a kiss and it was so close I felt like he kissed me. Over the years Jack autographed some great collectibles for me and charities. He helped with some wonderful golf club donations as well.
The picture of the two young men with Arnie’s putters in the background was at Arnie’s office. On the left is a local football high school star, Terrelle Pryor, whom I’d brought to meet Arnie before he left to play at Ohio State. The other man is author Brad Brewer who was meeting with Arnie for a final interview to complete his book Mentored by the King. I’m sure that our GHS members will love the intimate book.
I thank Arnie for bringing Brad and his wife, Wanda, into my life. He has helped many of my charitable passions. Friends whom I recommend visit the Brad Brewer Golf Academy at the Shingle Creek Resort in Orlando are always treated like family.
The bottle of wine featuring Arnie and Bob Ford is autographed by Arnie. I have admired Bob Ford since I met him at Oakmont many decades ago at the St. Vincent College Bearcat Open fundraiser. Through Arnold Palmer I now count Bob as a dear friend.
Also on the shelf is the book by Chris Rodell, Arnold Palmer – Homespun Stories of The King. Because of my relationship with Arnie, Chris came to me about his concept for this book. I encouraged him to tackle the book, shared some stories and Chris made it a collectible success. Now Chris is a good friend.
All of this happened because of Arnold.