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Errant Ball Blamed in Death of Avid Golfer and Tourney Organizer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anthony E. Lammersen lived and breathed golf.

As president of the Southern California Knights of Columbus Golf Assn., he arranged tournaments all over the country for Los Angeles-area players.

To keep his own game polished, he worked the early shift at the Social Security Administration office in Hollywood so he could squeeze in 18 holes most days before dark.

To help pay for greens fees, entry fees for charity tourneys and new golf clubs, he worked nights as an usher at a Glendale movie theater.

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Lammersen, 47, was trying out his newest driver last week when he was apparently hit on the head by an errant golf ball. He died two days later.

“Tony went out with his boots on and his weapon of choice: a golf ball,” said his sister, Janet Kuhn.

“For a golfer, I guess this is the best way to go,” said frequent foursome partner Mike Collier of Pasadena.

“Last summer he told me that when he dies, he’d like to die on the golf course,” said Social Security supervisor Fernando Peralta of Los Feliz, who was learning the game from Lammersen.

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“We know he’s in a happy place now. Up there, he can play all the golf he wants,” said movie house cashier Veronica Pedregon, who enjoyed watching Lammersen practice his putting with a broom, a ball and an empty soda cup in the Roxy theater lobby.

Still, as his friends buried him Thursday, they wondered exactly what happened. So do police.

Investigators with the Glendale Police Department do not know where Lammersen may have been playing April 20. Friends who have tried to help police by scouring local courses for witnesses who might have seen him playing that day have also come up empty-handed.

Lammersen had come to work the next day suffering from a throbbing black eye and sporting a nasty red knot on his forehead. When Social Security co-workers asked what had happened, he said he had been struck the evening before by another foursome’s ball that ricocheted off a tree and struck him over the left eye. His friends urged him to see a doctor; Lammersen promised he would.

Lammersen’s family pointed to the golf ball accident in a newspaper death notice as the cause of death.

His buddies speculate that Lammersen may have shrugged off his injury and finished playing.

“He’d have played on unless he was knocked out,” said golfer Roger Richard, a retired Burbank machinist, who noted that Lammersen had a 12 handicap. “He’d rather golf than eat.”

If that sounds surprising, Lammersen was a man full of surprises, his friends discovered Thursday as they gathered to lay him to rest beneath an olive tree at a North Hollywood cemetery.

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Some of his co-workers at Social Security, where he started 25 years ago as a stockroom and mail clerk, were unaware of his theater job. Many of his colleagues at the movie house did not know he worked days.

Most of his Knights of Columbus buddies knew nothing of either paying job. They knew him as a special events expert who helped out at Super Bowl halftime shows, such as January’s Michael Jackson spectacular at the Rose Bowl, and helped drop thousands of balloons on George Bush at last summer’s Republican National Convention in Houston.

Nearly everyone was stunned when they were told that Lammersen had struggled to successfully overcome a disabling accident in his infancy that had damaged part of his brain.

Doctors had recommended institutionalizing the infant after deciding, falsely, that he was retarded, said sister Janet Kuhn, of McLean, Va. Years later, Lammersen’s disability was found to be the result of a head trauma--possibly on the delivery table.

He fathered a child. But when his wife died suddenly four years ago, Lammersen sought out a family to adopt his 4-year-old daughter, Katie. He knew he could not properly raise her by himself, Kuhn said.

“With the cards he was dealt, he created a life for himself that 99% of us never do,” she said.

A sense of humor and a gift of gab led Lammersen into volunteer work. He assisted at the Rancho San Antonio Boys Town of the West in Chatsworth and at Rose Parades and presidential inaugurals. He was a familiar face at charity golf matches, such as the Little People tournament staged annually by actor Billy Barty.

Photographs of Lammersen surrounded by Super Bowl cheerleaders, sports stars, political dignitaries and others filled his apartment April 23 when Glendale police discovered his body. Alarmed Social Security co-workers had called them after he failed to report to work.

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Police are convinced that the blow from a golf ball triggered Lammersen’s death. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said their investigation is incomplete.

“My thought after looking around his apartment and seeing how much he had been involved with and how much he had done was, ‘Gee, I wish I could have known this guy,’ ” said Glendale Police Sgt. Jim Woody.

On Thursday, Lammersen’s friends were thankful they knew him.

“Tony saved my life,” confided movie theater cashier Latanya Barnes of Glendale. “One day last year I was depressed and I OD’d on sleeping pills. He took me to the hospital and saved me.”

“He was a good golfer and a good friend,” said Richard Cunningham, a mortuary executive from the Wilshire district.

Cunningham lingered behind as the cemetery crowd drifted away. Then he and Lammersen’s brother, Bruce, of Vienna, Va., gently opened the casket a final time.

They put a golf ball in Tony Lammersen’s hands.


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