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Golf classic highlights Breslin’s legacy

Published on Monday, May 08, 2017

I think you’ve played games long enough.

Those seven words — and the ensuing conversation with the longest-serving president in Michigan State University’s history — had a profound impact on a 26-year old Jack Breslin, and changed the course of his life.

Without that detour, Breslin might never have come to be known as “Mr. MSU.” In addition, the Jack Breslin Golf Classic, to be held on May 24 at Eagle Eye Golf Club and Hawk Hollow Golf Course in Bath, might not have been named after him.

The annual golf outing, which is hosted by the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, benefits the hospital whose mission he deeply believed in. Since the event was renamed in Breslin’s memory in 2002, it has raised more than $2.2 million, including more than $200,000 in cash and in-kind gifts in each of the past two years.

“Jack Breslin spent his life giving back to the community he loved,” said Tom Mee, RN, BSN, MBA, president and CEO of McLaren Greater Lansing. “He was also very passionate about McLaren Greater Lansing and its efforts to improve healthcare in the region.”

Breslin, who died of bone cancer in 1988, had a distinguished career at Michigan State University. As an undergraduate at the school, he lettered in three sports, served as president of the senior class, and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a minor in economics and science. But in August of 1946, he was a day away from boarding a train to the West Coast to begin a professional football career when he received a telephone call from John Hannah, president of what was then called Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science.

Breslin had signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dons of the first-year All-American Football Conference. But Hannah, who had developed a close relationship with Breslin since he was a college freshman, told him he should think strongly about a job offer he had received from the Chrysler Corporation. As a result, Breslin did not sleep all night, and the next day he decided to accept the offer from Chrysler and shelve his desire to play professionally.

“I think everybody would like to try their hand, or take their chances, as a pro player. And say, ‘Well, I was a professional football player,’ ” Breslin said in an interview on WKAR-TV in 1986. “But that’s not important to me anymore. That was the best advice I ever got in my life. I’m glad I accepted it, and things have turned out just great for me.”

Breslin was a district sales manager for Chrysler until 1950, when he accepted an offer from Hannah to become the field secretary and assistant director of alumni relations at Michigan State. He served in several more administrative positions during his tenure at the school before retiring in 1985 as the vice president for administration and public affairs. Shortly thereafter, he was named senior consultant to the president for state and public affairs. In 1989, the Jack Breslin Student Events Center opened on the MSU campus.

Hannah, who passed away in 1991, served as president of MSU for 28 years. He said in 1986 that “no one individual has done more than Jack Breslin to advance the significant best interests of MSU over the last quarter of a century.”

There was much more to Breslin, however, than being synonymous with MSU. He and his wife, Renee, had three sons, and were involved in numerous community organizations, including what is now McLaren Greater Lansing.

He was the first Development Council Chair at Ingham Medical Center – which eventually became McLaren Greater Lansing -- and also served as Chair of the Medical Center’s Board of Trustees. He loved golf, so renaming the outing after him was a fitting way to honor his contributions to the hospital.

“This event is a testament to Jack Breslin’s legacy,” said Scott Stewart, chair of the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation board of trustees. “It continues his work of making a positive impact in the community.”

Funds raised through the outing have supported a variety of groups, endeavors, equipment and programs. Included in that list are caregivers and patients, innovative research, a seven-channel breast coil, digital mammography machine, electrocardiographs for the Emergency Department, and Spiritual Care and Therapeutic Music programs.

“Jack Breslin had a knack for getting things done” said Calvin Jones, co-chair of the Breslin Golf Classic. “It’s a privilege to be involved in an event that honors a man who exceled at getting people to work together for the common good.”

Charles “Rusti” Owens, who is in his third year as co-chair with Jones, agreed.

“It’s a tribute to Jack Breslin that he still has such an impact on the Greater Lansing community,” Owens said. “I think he would be honored, and humbled, by how much McLaren Greater Lansing benefits from this event.”

Breslin’s accomplishments as an adult came after he dealt with two huge setbacks as a boy. The first occurred when he was stricken by polio when he was 11 and had to learn to walk again. The second happened when he was 13 and his father was killed by a drunk driver.

The polio prompted doctors to tell Breslin he might never walk again. The death of his dad led him to view Hannah as his second father.

A plaque on the wall of the MSU Breslin Cancer Center at McLaren Greater Lansing stands as a tribute to Breslin and his triumph over polio. The last two sentences inscribed on it are particularly poignant, and read as follows: He walked, he led, and he followed. And wherever he walked, he left behind footsteps and fingerprints – traces of a life lived fully, a family loved deeply, and a community served selflessly.

If you would like to know more about the Jack Breslin Golf Classic, or register for the event by the May 10 deadline, visit  mclaren.org/lansinggolf, or call 517-975-7100.