If you live in the Carolinas and have never been involved with the Willie Stargell Foundation, I’m here to tell you — it is worth it.

My wife Teri and I spent a weekend at the Willie Stargell Celebrity Invitational.

I was honored to be one of the celebrities along with some old friends such as NFL greats Sterling Sharpe and Art Still, World One Club Golf Champ Thad Daber, Renowned Photographer Bill Straus, and prolific Actor Gary Hudson.

There were dozens of other celebrities from baseball, football, basketball, and entertainment who are all deeply involved with the Willie Stargell Foundation.

The Legend of Willie Stargell Lives On

Being a baseball fan and a sportswriter, I followed Willie’s incredible career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two World Series titles in 1971 and 1979; World Series MVP in 1979; National League Homerun Champ two years; inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Sadly, I never got a chance to meet Willie. Kidney disease got him in 1999 and he died in 2001 at the age of 61. But everyone raves that he was a gentleman, a leader, and a philanthropist who care deeply about his community and his fans.  Fans and fellow players knew him as Pops because of his fatherly ways with everyone.

And you can feel it at this event.

Three things hit me during this fabulous weekend.

First, the Stargell is a throwback to the classic era of the 1980s and 1990s when celebrity golf events were classic events. I know. I was fortunate enough, as the host of Real TV, to attend the Jimmy V, the Duke Children’s Classic, the Frank Sinatra, the Bing Crosby, the Michael Jordan, and so many others that were just as prolific.  I can remember during a few of those years I literally played in 25 each year.

The Stargell brings you back to those times.

The opening night at Ruth’s Chris in downtown Wilmington was an open party that allowed you to spend a lot of time with a lot of people while enjoying incredible food and drink.

Throwback Celeb Golf Event

The second night was the formal dinner, held at the luxurious Landfall Country Club, that blared the good old days.  You dressed up, had some great food, and you raised a lot of money to help those in need.

Day 3 was the golf tournament, a 5-man best ball event that was played on the Landfall Nicklaus Course with some great views, lots of water hazards, and some fast greens.

Second, The Stargell is really a family event.  I don’t mean you bring your family.  You become family.

Margaret Weller, Willie’s widow, has a lot to do with that. We had never met before but she greeted me as if I’ve been part of the event for years.

One person who has been part of this event for years is Kathy Sledge from Sister Sledge the group that produced the classic 1970s song, really an anthem, “We Are Family”. It’s appropriate – “I got all my sisters and me” — since that song in 1979 was picked by Willie Stargell to motivate the Pirates to their 1979 World Series win over the Baltimore Orioles.

We Are Family

But even more poignant is how relevant it is to the event.  You could feel the “family vibe.”  And this was our first year attending.  We never felt like outsiders. The warmth lasted throughout the weekend.

“Margaret has done a really good job of bringing together a lot of really good people that I have begun to call friends,” Sterling Sharpe told me. “I come back here every year just because of the people and I understand cause tremendously.”

Besides Margaret, the Willie Stargell Foundation gets plenty of publicity from Frances Weller, Margaret’s sister and the main anchor at WECT in Wilmington, along with another news anchor mainstay, and longtime friend, Jon Evans, who emceed the Saturday night festivities.

Third, and most importantly, is everything that the Stargell gives back to help people with the same medical problems that took Willie’s life.

Kidney disease is a serious and costly health problem that affects millions of Americans.

Here are some stats.

  • 37 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease.
  • Nearly 800,000 people have end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant to survive.
  • In North Carolina, kidney disease ranks as the ninth leading cause of death.
  • More than 20,000 Tar Heel folks have end stage renal disease and are on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.

The Stargell makes sure they don’t face it alone.

The proceeds go to programs focusing on kidney disease, kidney research, improving patient care, and easing the financial burden of medical costs.

The Stargell awards grants to organizations, medical centers, and transplant programs that share its vision of improving the lives of kidney patients.

Here are a few.

  • The Willie Stargell Dialysis Center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center treats more than 1000 patients annually.
  • The UNC Kidney Center, which conducts cutting-edge research on kidney disease and its causes, prevention, and treatment, and has received funds to support clinical trials, educational programs, and patient outreach.
  • The Duke Transplant Center, which performs more than 200 kidney transplants per year, and has received funds to assist patients with transportation, lodging, medication, and other expenses related to the transplant process.
  • The National Kidney Foundation, which provides education, advocacy, and support for kidney patients and their families, and has received funds to sponsor kidney screenings, awareness campaigns, and peer mentoring programs.

There’s more at their website.

If you can, come join us.  As Willie says, “We are family!”

Check out my interviews with 4 of the celebrities who help make the Stargell a real family event.

John Daly is the host of Carolina Buzz and the Carolina Buzz Daly Digest, a TV and video series on everything happening in the Carolinas from the coast to the mountains. John is an internationally known TV host since his stint as the host of Real TV, the first all-video news magazine show.  John also co-hosts Undercover Jetsetter, a show on travel, food, wine, mixology, and golf — all produced off the iPhone.  John emcees many business and charity events.