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Saturday, December 7, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Area sports

Jim Meehan: Age no handicap for Hangman Valley ladies-club members Virginia Danke, June Syverson

Virginia Danke took a few moments to carefully do the math in her head.

“Seventy-four years ago,” Danke said of her introduction to golf.

June Syverson took up the game in her 60s after she and a friend decided they needed to find an outdoor activity.

“My family put together the most motley set of clubs you could ever see,” Syverson laughed.

You can find these two nonagenarians hitting fairways, dropping putts and wowing playing partners most Wednesdays in Hangman Valley’s 9-hole ladies club.

Danke, 94, nearly made par on the par-3 seventh and ninth holes. In between, her drive on No. 8 practically landed on the mowing stripe in the center of the fairway.

Syverson, 98, hasn’t played the last few weeks because of a sore back, but she hopes to return to the course soon. Danke expressed concern for Syverson’s condition at least three times during a short postround interview.

“I’ve been struggling with it lately, apparently it comes with the aging process,” Syverson said. “It took some discipline to learn how to put my feet up and obey my body. It’s hard because I’ve always been a very active person with lots of energy.”

That applies to both Syverson and Danke. Both are Spokane natives and both attended Washington State College prior to the name change to Washington State University in 1959. Both still drive golf balls and their own cars.

Danke isn’t sure how long she’s played in the 9-hole club but estimates 35-40 years.

“They’ve been here every year since I got here in 1990,” Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke said. “I don’t know exactly when the club formed, but it was probably around when the course opened in 1969, that first or second year.

“June told me last year she had her driver’s license renewed for six years. She said, ‘You guys are our inspiration out here because you want us to play.’ I told her, ‘After this one is done, I expect you to renew it again in six years.’ ”

Syverson and Danke look forward to Wednesday mornings.

“It’s great because we have a great group of women,” Danke said. “That has as much to do with it as the golf.”

And the bowling, for that matter. For years, some of the Hangman Valley golfers also get together to bowl once a week in the winter. Asked if she’s a good bowler, Danke hesitated but not a friend standing nearby: “Yes, I’ve seen you.”

Danke was head of the physical education department at Lewis and Clark High, retiring after a 29-year career. She played softball and tennis as a youngster and her duties at LC included teaching golf and bowling.

Danke has been a tireless advocate in the growth of women’s sports. She helped start gymnastics in Spokane. She was a pioneer for women’s officials, working volleyball matches, gymnastics meets and basketball games. She was inducted into the Washington Officials Association Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2003.

“It was a different era back then,” Danke said. “I fought for a long time in Spokane to get things going. It was a matter of just pushing, even to get a line in the paper.

“Do you remember Bob Johnson? He was the sports editor at the (now-defunct Spokane) Chronicle. I had his daughter (at LC) so I was finally able to get a line or two in the sports section.”

98 year old June Syverson warms up on the putting green before a round of golf at Hangman Valley Golf Course in Spokane on Wednesday June 12, 2019. June and her close friend 94 year old Virginia Danke play weekly in a Ladies 9 hole group at the course. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
98 year old June Syverson warms up on the putting green before a round of golf at Hangman Valley Golf Course in Spokane on Wednesday June 12, 2019. June and her close friend 94 year old Virginia Danke play weekly in a Ladies 9 hole group at the course. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Syverson was involved in theater at West Valley High and WSC. She and her late husband operated an egg production farm in Greenacres, “so I was a city girl that went country. I just stepped right in and learned a lot of things.”

Syverson hasn’t slowed down in retirement. She began writing her memoirs for six great grandchildren and along the way had several articles published in Nostalgia magazine. She facilitates a writers’ group at Rockwood Retirement Community, where she maintains her own place.

“Mom’s a crowd-stopper,” said Janie O’Brien, Syverson’s daughter. “People ask her on the sidewalk how old she is, can they take a picture, what’s your secret? Don’t ask her to go snowboarding because she probably would go.”

Syverson bowled with the Hangman Valley ladies until a few years ago. She switched over to Wii videogame bowling.

“We hoot and holler and have lot of fun,” said Syverson, who goes for half-mile walks a couple of times a week. “And it’s easy to do because the wand is so light.”

Syverson and Danke say their golf games have slipped, but playing partners don’t necessarily agree. Syverson has lost driving distance so she’s worked diligently on putting to compensate. “If I can stay in the 60s I say, ‘Hooray, that’s not my age.’ ”

Danke, who carries just six clubs in her bag, carded another score in the low 50s last Wednesday. She received a birdie pin from the club last year after making a birdie.

“They’re both amazing,” said Cathy Henneberry, a retired teacher who played in Danke’s foursome. “When Virginia was like 90, she told me, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I bought a new driver.’ We said, ‘Good for you, that’s great.’ She said, ‘Well at my age I might only use it for a year, but I’m going to do it.’

“She was so excited about that driver, and it works. Always straight, never in trouble, never goes in the sand.”

“That’s a good driver,” Danke confirmed.

Their scores don’t matter as much as joining friends each week for nine holes.

“It’s a good team and we have a lot of fun and new friendships are formed. I enjoy the fellowship and the exchanges (with other clubs),” Syverson said. “Oh my, it’s a highlight in my week.”

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