Locust Hill Gives it Back

Bright Spot: Golfing 'fore' a good cause

Rochester, N.Y. — Locust Hill Country Club hosted an unusual golf tournament Monday.

Inspired by the Pope family, it was a family event.

There were activities for kids, fireworks at dusk, and, yes, golf. It was all to benefit Anna's Wish, an organization which provides support for young children with cancer.

"The amount of support today and the number of people here, the amount of generosity, is something I haven't experienced before," Jeff McKinney, who helped found the organization in memory of his late daughter, Anna, who died from cancer.

Proceeds were also shared with Warrior Salute Veterans Services.

"All those funds will be used here locally at our Warrior Salute Outpatient Clinic and our Nucor transitional house for veterans," said Thomas DeRoller, Executive Director, CDS Wolf Foundation.

The day yielded $20,000 for each group - and an atmosphere that felt like the old LPGA was back at Locust Hill.

The real bright spot?

"You know, the most important thing is we raised that money for charity and we're able to donate to two wonderful causes," Jonathan Meyer, Event participant, said.

Locust Hill Country Club Congratulates The 50th Anniversary Of Don Alhart, Channel 13's News Anchor, A Rochester Icon And A LHCC Member For Over 2 Dec

By Jeff DiVeronica |

Article Link:

'The man with the golden voice'

Don Alhart thought about leaving Rochester once. It was in the late 1980s and the Penfield native had already been on television in his hometown for more than 20 years as a reporter and news anchor for Rochester's ABC affiliate.

So when a former colleague called and asked if he'd consider an anchor job at WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C., Alhart went for it. He was in his mid-40s and his three children were all in school, but being a TV newsman was all Alhart ever wanted to do, and to have an opportunity in the nation's capital, how could he not try?

He didn't get the job.

Don Alhart on set in 1971.

Alhart thought he interviewed well, but two years later got his answer as to why the offer went to someone else. Jonathan Murray, another former colleague who'd go on to become a reality TV pioneer with shows like MTV's The Real World and another about some women named Kardashian, had spoken to the folks in D.C.

"The tone of all your interviews was that you really didn't want the job," Murray told Alhart. "You wanted to see if you could get (an offer), but didn't really want it. They sensed that."

Alhart thinks he knows why: "My heart has always been here," he says in what is an iconic voice throughout the region.

"I've always felt if you're going to be effective as a communicator you have to know the community."

And on Monday he hits a milestone, one that's never been achieved locally.

When Alhart sits at that desk to anchor the 6 o'clock news, it will mark his 50th anniversary on the air, all at WHAM-TV (Channel 13, formerly WOKR-TV).

That's a feat in any industry, let alone the fickle world of TV. His first day at work was June 6, 1966, two days after he graduated from Ithaca College.

"There's probably no one in Rochester who has been in the public eye as long as Don, no politician, no one in schools, a CEO or police chief," says Peter Burrell, Alhart's boyhood pal whose career as a Hollywood TV and movie producer includes Ally McBeal and Boston Public.

"Don and his family have been so connected to this town and so appreciated."

The feeling is mutual, and goes a lot deeper than simply being trusted enough by generations of viewers who let Alhart into their homes nightly. The 72-year-old is also well-respected for his various and voluminous charitable work, particularly with the Rochester Rotary Club, and if you haven't been at an event that he emceed, you might be in the minority.

Don Alhart, left, and his longtime friend, Peter Burrell.

From spelling bees to black-tie galas, Alhart has volunteered for them all. He's also hosted local telethons for causes such as United Cerebral Palsy. He makes an effort to be a part of Rochester.

"I've always felt if you're going to be effective as a communicator, you have to know the community," Alhart says. "It helps you tell a story with real meaning."

If anyone should be called, "Mr. Rochester," it's Donald Whitney Alhart, a civic treasure by anyone's measure.

Don Alhart lets us take a look at his pre-TV beauty routine, and it involves a lot of hairspray.

'He's not retiring'

"You've got to have a plan," Mary Alhart says, sitting on the couch and talking retirement with her husband in their Penfield home. "He has to have a plan because he's not the type to just sit around the house."

Mary and Don Alhart were married in 1970. They met in 1968 when she was a Miss Rochester pageant contestant at Bishop Kearney High and Don was there working for Channel 13. (Photo: Jamie Germano)

The milestone has made Alhart and Mary, his wife of 46 years, think more about retirement, but Don doesn't see it happening soon. "My ideal plan," he says, "will be to withdraw slowly."

Also an associate news director, Alhart works the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts, sharing the desk at 11 with Ginny Ryan. He says one day he may scale back to just the 6 and then eventually do only his daily "Bright Spots," the feature he started 25 years ago that shines a light, even for just 20 seconds, on someone doing a good deed in the Rochester area.

WHAM-TV general manager Chuck Samuels, who was news director for 10 years before taking over his current role a decade ago, has offered to let Alhart trim his schedule. Alhart hasn't taken him up on it, yet. "He still likes what he does. It keeps him young," says Samuels, 58.

Alhart thinks working out daily at the Jewish Community Center in Brighton, quite often with George Steitz, 92, his soccer coach at Penfield High, has helped him keep up with the hectic pace of his public and private life. If he slows down, "there's almost a fear … it might have a tremendous impact on me."

'Gravitational force'

WHAM's Doug Emblidge, 55, the man who has been tabbed for 33 years as Alhart's replacement, says not a single colleague wants Alhart to retire.

Alhart has a small sound studio in his basement with a variety of technologies going back to reel-to-reel format, the machine he's pointing at in this picture.(Photo: Jamie Germano)

"He is so much a part of what we are," Emblidge says, before delivering his punch line. "I hope I retire, he emcees my retirement party and has to come back and do the 11 (o'clock news).""

Colleagues say the newsroom wouldn't be same without Alhart, the even-tempered man whom they've never heard raise his voice. A five-time winner of the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, Alhart is a 2010 inductee to the New York State Broadcasters' Association Hall of Fame.

"His attitude, the way he goes about his business, that's the kind of thing that bleeds down through the newsroom," says Glenn Johnson, a Channel 13 meteorologist for 31 years.

Alhart is the newsroom's "gravitational force," Samuels says, "the person everyone looks up to."

That includes longtime colleagues in sports director Mike Catalana (28 years) and Ryan, his co-anchor for 25 years. A Gates native, Ryan grew up watching Alhart. "I was probably nervous up until about 10 years ago, but he has a natural way of disarming people," Ryan says.

A quirky personality is one way. Alhart wears polka-dot-rimmed eyeglasses and his business cards are those plastic inserts needed for old vinyl "45" records (Alhart's contact information is on them).

It appears that you’re attempting to view this video from a location in the European Union. At this point in time we regret to say we cannot make this video available to you. Please visit our home page for other content that may be of interest to you.

A look at what Don Alhart is like behind the scenes of his anchor gig from the people who know him best: his colleagues.

Humor is another method. "I've always said he could have been Johnny Carson," Burrell says. Alhart prefers to be conversational on the air and loves to make people laugh. He's also been known to deliver funny and poignant lines in poems he whips up on the fly while emceeing.

Carson and Peter Jennings were among his idols, along with Tom Decker, a longtime WROC-TV (Channel 8) anchor in Rochester.

Humility is another Alhart trait that's apparent whether talking to an intern or a stranger on the street. But the essence of Alhart might be this: He's just a really nice guy. "That's what we always wanted to be," Burrell says, laughing at their youth. "People in this business, we all just want to be liked."

Alhart does it without a hint of arrogance.

"I don't walk down the street thinking about who I am," he says.

'Live from my bedroom'

His name was Don Natzker. He taught fifth grade in the mid-1950s and built a makeshift radio station in one corner of his Penfield classroom.

"That was the spark," Alhart says. "We were fascinated."

Mary and Don Alhart were married in 1970. They met in 1968 when she was a Miss Rochester pageant contestant at Bishop Kearney High and Don was there working for Channel 13. (Photo: Jamie Germano)

That's when Alhart and Burrell started dreaming of being on the air. It didn't hurt that Nick Nickson, the former popular WBBF radio announcer who died in January at age 93, lived in Alhart's neighborhood. Initially, they wanted to be radio disc jockeys. That was the cool job then. Their ingenuity made school public-address announcements into productions, complete with sound effects.

"We added flair to it," Burrell says.

They weren't done. They researched where to buy microphones and sound equipment. They ran speaker wire through cold-air ducts at home so their families, stationed in other rooms, could be their audience. "If we were going to do a radio 'broadcast,' we wanted people to hear it!" says Alhart, who still has some of those recordings that he plays on a reel machine in his basement.

Don Alhart in his Penfield High School jacket.

Having a thirst for the equipment came naturally because he spent so much time as a boy at Alhart Appliance, the store his father, Gene, owned at the corner of Culver Road and Parsells Avenue in the city.

Alhart thinks he learned how to work with people, in part, by listening to his dad with customers.

"To the community, he's Don Alhart. To me, he's just Dad."

"Watching him communicate, weave stories and watch people react to it," Alhart says. "That was always a part of what I wanted to be."

Alhart's father also taught him about civic duty. Gene Alhart started with the Rotary in 1939. His son joined at the age of 32, became president of the local chapter from 1987-88 and Rotary district governor in 2002-03. The governor's post put him in charge of nearly 70 clubs in greater Rochester and the Southern Tier.

"He's a communicator, so people wanted Don to help recruit members by speaking to them," past Rotary President Bob Enright says. "So he'd drive an hour at night to give a 25-minute speech, then make sure he was back in time for the 11 o'clock news... But it was more than just time; he put his heart in it."

Alhart's message: You can do more to make your community a better place.

'Family Matters'

There wasn't one big break that helped Alhart's career, but he says there is one person.

"My career and community involvement would never have worked without Mary. It really, really wouldn't," Alhart says about the woman he married in 1970, two years after he first spotted her as an 18-year-old Miss Rochester pageant contestant at her alma mater, Bishop Kearney High School. "I was off doing things and probably justifying it in my mind saying, 'I'm providing the income,' but you can't replace the parenting your wife does when you're gone."

Don was 23 and covering the pageant for work. He wasn't even the on-camera talent. He was working in production, but he let Mary wear his headphones for few minutes that night, asked for her number and eventually convinced her Italian father that "the TV guy" could be trusted. She was the rock at home when Don was stuck at the office during the 1991 ice storm or when a breaking news story needed extended coverage.

The Alharts' three children all have spouses and families of their own now: Todd, 44, lives in the Albany area; Jennifer, 42, lives in Chautauqua, near Jamestown; and Jon, 37, lives in Penfield and is vice president of digital/social media for Dixon Schwabl.

"To the community, he's Don Alhart. To me, he's just Dad," says Jon, a sportscaster for nearly eight years in Syracuse and Binghamton before transitioning to public relations, a move his father supported.

The Alhart family

Jon gets nostalgic when he sees his father take iPhone videos of the four grandchildren in the family, the same way he used to shoot home movies of them. "It's pretty neat," Jon says.

He laughs when thinking about how much of a kick his father got by filling in as the public-address announcer at one of Jon's youth baseball games. A few parents probably thought that was pretty neat, too, Don Alhart — the Don Alhart — introducing their kid's at-bat.

"I'd be the father that showed up in the suit and tie in the bottom of the fourth inning and left in the top of the seventh. But I was there. I made the effort to be there," Don Alhart says.

His workday usually starts around 3 p.m. and ends past midnight. During dinner breaks he'd be at as many of his kids' events as he could for as long as he could. Not being able to be at everything was his least favorite thing about his job when his children were younger.

"Have you been prepped for this because I'm a little superstitious?" Alhart responds after being asked about the last time he took a sick day.

The answer: never.

He left early once. Alhart had pneumonia. But he's never called in sick. Not once. He says if he had a 9-to-5 job it probably would have happened, but it helps having several hours after waking up to shake off a cold or medicate before going to work.

It appears that you’re attempting to view this video from a location in the European Union. At this point in time we regret to say we cannot make this video available to you. Please visit our home page for other content that may be of interest to you.

Don Alhart talks about how his career factored into his family life.

Fifty years — Alhart dwarfs baseball ironman Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak of not missing a game from 1982 to 1998 (2,632 consecutive games). His adaptability might be more amazing than his durability. His thirst to use the latest technology has helped him stay in front of changes in the news industry. It also makes him a go-to guy on staff. Yup, when colleagues want to know more about the newest app, they ask the 72-year-old.

He had the staff's first cellphone, one of those big "bricks," as Emblidge called it. It came in handy Sept. 10, 1988. That's when Emblidge's wife's water broke as they walked into a wedding reception. "I got into father mode. We've got to call somebody," Emblidge says, recounting his panic.

Who was walking toward him? Alhart, the only person he knew back then with a cellphone. "He showed me how to use it," Emblidge says.

Alhart figured out very early that it never hurts to learn everything. Shortly after graduating from Penfield in 1962, he was hired as a relief engineer at WROC. Whenever someone went on vacation, Alhart filled in.

"One week I'm running the camera. The next week the microphones, the next week I'm in the film lab," Alhart recalls.

The summer before his senior year at Ithaca he applied for an announcer opening at Channel 13. Back then, they read live commercials or boomed out the station name every half hour. Alhart didn't get the job because he was told he didn't have enough timbre in his cadence. Seems odd now, but he admits his voice probably wasn't mature enough.

It worked out quite nicely, though, because that sent Alhart after an opening in the news department. At first, the bosses didn't want to hire him for the $75-per-week job because Alhart had to go back to college in a few months.

"How about this," Alhart says, remembering his counterproposal. "You hire me and I just work while you look for a reporter, and when you (find that) reporter I'm done?"

By summer's end, management changed its tune.

"Why don't you just stay? You don't have to go back to school," Alhart recalls, laughing at the memory.

'How he helped Wegmans save the LPGA'

Quite often when Peggy Wegman spotted Don Alhart at Locust Hill Country Club during the Wegmans LPGA Championship, she'd wink at him and the longtime Channel 13 news anchor knew what it meant.

It was a thank you, because if not for a conversation Alhart had with her husband, Robert Wegman, women's professional golf may have left Rochester a lot sooner than 2014.

In 1997, Robert Wegman was considering dropping his supermarket chain's sponsorship of the annual LPGA Tournament. Back then, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., was just one of several local companies that contributed thousands to run the tournament and fund its purse. The same evening Wegman shared his concern with his wife about future investment, the couple attended a Catholic Family charity dinner. Like he does for many events locally, Alhart was the master of ceremonies.

"You're involved in Rotary," Alhart remembers Peggy Wegman saying to him. "You need to talk to Bob. He's thinking about getting out of the LPGA altogether."

"Dear Don: We are looking for someone who exudes more warmth on the air. Sincerely, Bob Feldman"


So they switched seats at the head table and Alhart, a former Rotary president whose family's club membership started in 1939 with his father, explained to Bob Wegman how vital the LPGA was to a pair of Rotary children's camps, the Sunshine Camp in Rush and Camp Haccamo in Penfield. From 1981 to 2008, donations from money raised at LPGA events here pumped $7 million into the camps.

Alhart invited Wegman to see one of the camps, and a few days later Greater Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Mooney joined them on a tour of the Sunshine Camp in a golf cart. "I wasn't even allowed to go," then-Rotary President Bob Enright says about how quiet the whole thing was kept.

Afterward, Wegman seemed interested, Alhart says. Before leaving, Wegman slapped the top of the golf cart and said, "That's it!" Alhart, who humbly underplays his role in all of this, didn't know if that was good or bad. The answer arrived a few months later. In November of 1997, Wegmans became the title sponsor of the LPGA tournament here, a relationship that lasted 17 years. The purse grew from $700,000 in 1998 to $2.25 million in 2014, its final year in Pittsford.

That was the catalyst for the tournament becoming an LPGA major championship from 2000-14 and one of its best tour stops for decades. Bob Wegman died in 2006. He was 87, and the LPGA Championship moved out of Rochester after 2014 and on to a bigger purse ($3.5 million in 2015 in Westchester County). But if it wasn't for Wegman, that may have happened more than a dozen years earlier.

"Some people think it was a business move," Enright says of becoming title sponsor. "It was nowhere near that. It was a charitable thing that Wegmans did."

And if not for Don Alhart it may never have happened.