December 14th, 2015
Walt Gahm remembered
Walt Gahm died Friday night, only a few weeks after the Louisville Catholic Sports Network had awarded his family the Howard Schnellenberger Family Award for service to community and faith. Due to his declining health, Walt was unable to attend the ceremony at the Kentucky Center for the Arts, but his family assured us that he was aware of everything going on and happy about it.
We missed Walt that night, but his younger brothers Gordie and Phil spoke eloquently about his contributions to the family business, Kitchen Kompact, and the world-class golf course the family built in eastern Jefferson County. Named Valhalla, it has been the venue for the 2008 Ryder Cup, three PGA championships, and a Senior U.S. Open in the last 20 years.
I got to know Walt in 1983, when Dwight Gahm, the family patriarch, was kind and gracious enough to allow me, as sports editor of The Courier-Journal, to break the news about their plans to build Valhalla. Walt impressed me with his warmth, friendliness, and can-do attitude. He was an organizer and manager to the end.
“The last couple of months he was amazing,” his brother Gordie told me. “He had everything planned out down to the last detail. He told everybody what he wanted them to do. But that was Walt. He was a leader to the end.”
His dad played football at Indiana, but Walt chose Purdue, where he was a teammate of Bob Griese, the quarterback who later led the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1972-’73 – and the NFL’s last unbeaten season in ’72. In his role as an icon in Miami, Griese became friends with Jack Nicklaus, perhaps the greatest golfer ever.
So when the Gahms were in the early stages of planning Valhalla, Walt called Griese to hook up the family with Nicklaus, who also was in the business of designing courses. Once Nicklaus heard the Gahms’ vision for their plot of land in eastern Jefferson County, he signed on.
The Gahms are modest people who shy away from the spotlight. So even when Walt was chairman of the committee running the Ryder Cup or a PGA Championship, he worked largely in the background. But he always was around, making sure the players were comfortable, solving patron complaints, generally doing everything he could to make Valhalla a little slice of heaven for all concerned.
Like his dad and brothers, Walt was an avid golfer and a pretty good one. Soon after Valhalla was completed and open for business, he invited me to be his guest for lunch and golf. I warned him that my game would desecrate the beautiful course. But Gahm was game, and he never lost his smile or his sense of humor as he watched Valhalla reduce me to a quivering mass of jelly.
I made him promise to never tell anyone how miserably I played that day, and, so far as I know, he kept his word. Walt just liked people who liked golf, and he was as happy to hang out with duffers as he was to rub elbows with Nicklaus and golf’s royalty.
Louisville is a better place today because of Walt and his family. They’re like all the philanthropists who have given back to the community by supporting the arts or education or some other worthy cause. Their passion happened to be golf, and they gave the community a venue that will make the city a destination for the world’s best golfers for years to come.
Walt’s funeral will be held at noon Tuesday, Dec. 15, at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church. It will be preceded by visitation at the church beginning at 10 a.m. When I asked Gordie about his brother’s service, he only smiled.
“You know Walt,” he said. “He’d want to keep it short so everybody can get on with their lives.”
The Gahm family were the recipients of the third annual Howard Schnellenberger Family Award at the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 4, 2015. Click this link for the video presentation that introduced the Gahm family into the LCS Hall of Fame.