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Lori's life, tournament have touched many.

Byline: Bill Doyle

COLUMN: GOLF NOTES

The legacy of Lori Lajoie has touched many lives, none more so than her brother and two sisters.

The Lori Lajoie Charity Golf Tournament at Worcester Country Club has raised more than $3 million for the Seven Hills Foundation over the past three decades. Lajoie, who died at age 37 in 2001 of ovarian cancer, was mentally disabled just as those helped by Seven Hills. The 32nd annual tournament will be held Thursday, Aug. 16, at WCC.

Lajoie's siblings benefited from just knowing and loving her.

"Lori was my best friend," said her sister Lisa Marek, 46, of Worcester. "I did everything for Lori. I never looked at Lori as any different."

But Lori was different. She spoke only a few words and never advanced beyond the intelligence of a 3-year-old child. She required constant care. Doctors told Lori's parents, Coco and former WCC head pro Ray Lajoie, that she'd never walk, talk, shower on her own or feed herself. With Coco's persistence, she proved the doctors wrong. But not everyone accepted Lori.

Lisa remembers when she was about 9 and Lori was 7, Lori was so loud at a Laundromat, the manager told them to take their clothes out of the washers and go home. "My mother had to hold me back," Lisa said.

Lisa said she married her late husband, Chet, in part because he accepted Lori. When Lori was older and staying in a group home, Lisa and Chet took her to their house on weekends. So their children, Chester, now 21, and Angela, now 17, grew up with her.

"I would never be with anyone who did not accept my sister," Lisa said. "That was my rule."

Lisa often looks at Lori's picture and asks how she's doing.

"I know it's not a normal thing to do," Lisa said. "I don't think I've ever really dealt with her dying."

Memories of Lori are different for Lynn Ellsworth of Oxford, Lori's only younger sibling. As young as 10, Lori baby-sat her sister at times to allow her mother to run errands for an hour or two.

"That was difficult because she was older than me," Lynn said. "I got the sense that I was supposed to be the baby of the family, and yet I had this responsibility."

Lynn had her friends drop her off a block from her house so they wouldn't see Lori sitting on the front porch and singing at the top of her lungs while listening to her ever-present radio.

"How shallow of me," Lynn says now.

"I remember the day I went to my mother," Lynn said through tears, "and said, `I'm embarrassed. I don't want her as a sister.' I was ashamed of my feelings because I knew how the rest of my family felt."

Lynn, 40, estimated she was 13 at the time.

"I had a really bad time when she died because I felt so guilty," Lynn admitted. "I should have been a better sister, should have been gone to visit her. I shoulda, coulda, woulda, but you can't take back time. I'm very proud to have her for a sister. I can actually thank her. She's very responsible for a couple of things - for the person that I am today and for the work that I do."

Lynn works in the newborn intensive care unit at UMass Memorial, at times helping parents cope with what she lived through. Recently she encountered an older couple with a Down Syndrome child. The father bonded with the baby girl, but the mother refused. Lynn told the mother about her sister and the money raised in her name that benefited so many others.

"You need to put your hands on this baby," Lynn told the mother. "You need to love this baby. You need to know that maybe this baby isn't going to be a Rhodes Scholar or maybe she's not going to get married, but she's going to do other things, and she's going to bring you such joy that you'll have no idea about."

Lynn admits: "I would have never thought that age 13, I'd be saying those words. So I feel that I've been given a gift. I wouldn't be who I am if Lori wasn't my sister."

Lori is why Lynn went to work in newborn intensive care.

"I couldn't help my own sister," Lisa said while biting her lip. "It's kind of easier to help somebody else who's not so close. I feel like I'm doing penance every day to make up for what I didn't do when she was alive."

John Lajoie, 49, the oldest of the four Lajoie children, joined the Air Force at age 17 in part to get away from living at home with Lori, but he made sure to return every year, even when he was stationed in England, to play in his sister's golf tournament. His dedication paid off in more ways than one because he met his wife, Susan, at the 1979 Lajoie tournament.

Susan worked the 1979 tournament as a waitress and John asked the hostess if he could dance with her at the end of the night.

"That was a first," Susan said. "Usually, the help at WCC doesn't dance with the members and their guests. At that time, I was fed up with guys and I wasn't looking for anybody."

John told his sisters, but not Susan, that night that he had met the woman he would marry. Eventually, they did wed.

"It's because of Lori that we're together," John said.

John's son Jason, 20, plays in the tournament. His daughter Jessica, 18, helps Coco sell raffle tickets on the first tee. A second daughter, Jackie, 11, attends the tournament dinner and will help when she gets older.

"We give back for our lives being so enriched by Lori's legacy," John said. "We want to make things better for others."

Her legacy wasn't apparent when Lori was young.

"When you have a sister or any relative that's mentally challenged, it's difficult," John said. "The degree of her being challenged was pretty significant, so much so that it affected how we ran our everyday lives when we were children."

John admits it was hard to watch his mother struggle to take care of Lori and at times he'd reach the breaking point and leave. There were good times as well.

"There were times when she'd want give you a big kiss and a hug," John said. "She was very loving. There were other times that she wanted to whack you aside the head and there were other times that she grab a beer out of your hands and chug it down."

One night, when Lori was about 8, she dumped a dozen eggs on the kitchen floor and went back to bed. The next morning, Ray walked into the kitchen, slipped on the eggs and fell on his behind.

"I walk in," John said, "he's on the floor and Lori's standing by the refrigerator laughing her head off."

It's known as "the eggscapade" in the Lajoie household.

Lori's antics drew laughter at times. She'd eat an entire onion at the dinner table. When Coco made cucumbers in vinegar, the rest of family ate the cucumbers and Lori drank the vinegar. Lori held nail polish and all kinds of items in her hands, saying, "Mine."

"If you tried to take it away, she'd smack you," Lynn recalled.

Trying patience aside, John, like Lisa, never felt embarrassed about Lori's condition.

"I never, ever had doubt," John said, "that if they were my friends that they would accept my sister. If they didn't, they weren't my friends and I wouldn't want to have anything to do with them."

WCC member Leo Malboeuf helped start the Lori Lajoie tournament in 1976 after meeting Lori, and the WCC members have continued the tradition long after Malboeuf died and Ray Lajoie retired as WCC head pro.

"I'm very proud," John said, "that her name is used in such a positive way for the community, and we can do what we can to support that."

Lori has helped others in many ways.

One of the first purchases Seven Hills made with funds raised from the Lajoie tournament was a three-decker on Fruit Street that was converted to the Malboeuf House, a temporary home for mentally disabled children while their parents went on appointments or vacation. Most parents had trouble letting go of their mentally disabled children, believing no one else could take good care of them. Coco agreed to have Lori stay in the home to show that it was safe.

"Lori's tournament made it easier for parents," Coco said, "to seek help for their children rather than feel ashamed. A lot of people don't realize Seven Hills can help them. People think, `I can take care of things myself.' I felt that way for a long, long time, but everybody needs help."

Last year, Seven Hills named an art room after Lori. A young mentally disabled woman was invited to the Lajoie tournament banquet and watched from her wheelchair as her painting was included in the live auction. The money her painting raised went back to the Seven Hills Foundation.

"You couldn't possibly see anyone prouder than she was," Susan said. "That sort of thing brings tears to your eyes."

Tears of joy.

Double double-eagles ...

Jeff Frisch waited 44 years to card his first double eagle, a shot even more unusual than a hole-in-one. He waited only two weeks to record his second.

Frisch, 44, a police officer from Clinton, scored a double-eagle 2 on the 480-yard, par-5 10th hole at Wachusett Country Club on Sunday, July 8. Then two Sundays later, he scored another double-eagle 2 on Wachusett's 488-yard, par-5 15th hole.

Frisch is nicknamed "Fritter."

"Everyone in Clinton has a nickname," Frisch said.

After his drive on 10, Frisch hit a 4-iron from 207 yards into the cup. His first double-eagle earned him 16 points in his quota match.

"That pretty much ended the match right there," Frisch said. "So we started a new match for the last eight holes."

Frisch, an 8 handicap, finished with a 1-over 73, but his double-eagle was overshadowed by a hole-in-one carded that day by Matt Ormond.

"He stole my thunder," Frisch said, "but I had a drink on Matt."

Ormond pocketed the league's hole-in-one pool and Frisch collected nothing.

On Sunday, July 22, Frisch drove into the right rough and was left with 217 yards to the flag. During his follow-through on his Callaway Fusion hybrid 3 approach shot, he joked to his match-play opponent, "Not another double eagle."

Sure enough, it was. Frisch earned a double-eagle double and shot another 73.

"I laughed a lot more at that one because it was so unbelievable," Frisch said.

Last Sunday, Frisch's regular playing partner, Charlie Fitch, carded a hole-in-one. Because double eagles aren't printed in newspapers like holes-in-ones, word of Frisch's two double eagles haven't spread much.

According to leaderboard.com, holes-in-one outnumber double eagles 20-1. Frisch knows of one other golfer at Wachusett, Dennis Colbert, who has had two double eagles, but his didn't come within two weeks of one another.

Even though double eagles are rarer than holes-in-one, Frisch has never carded a hole-in-one. He admits he'd prefer an ace to an albatross.

"I'd like my wallet to get a little thicker," he said, referring to the hole-in-one insurance.

Frisch plans to play Wachusett this morning and if the two-week pattern continues he should score another double eagle today. That's certainly no sure thing. Last Sunday, Frisch shot a 6-over 11 on the par-5 15th, hitting two balls out of bounds, bouncing another shot off a tree, taking two chips and three-putting.

"A 9-shot difference in one week," Frisch. "That shows what a stupid game it is."

Ouimet Marathon

The 15th annual Francis Ouimet Golf Marathon, the nation's largest golf marathon, will be held Wednesday at Stow Acres CC in Stow.

Over the past 14 years, 590 golfers played 75,376 holes, an average of 128 each, and raised $2.8 million. Golfers receive pledges per hole. The marathon enabled the Ouimet Foundation to award $1.3 million in college scholarships for the coming school year.

The field, which includes 15 golf pros and 13 Ouimet scholars and alumni, will begin play at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday.

ART: PHOTOS

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN

CUTLINE: (1) Kevin Early of Shrewsbury, left, and Sean McGrail of Worcester acknowledge the applause after being crowned overall champions of the 85th annual Worcester Contry Club Invitational. (2)

Ray and Coco Lajoie
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 5, 2007
Words:2111
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