In a profession where job security is often considered tenuous at best, John Yakubisin was an anomaly.
He was a course superintendent at three different golf clubs over the past four decades -- the past 23 years at the ultra-private Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier -- and had the rare distinction of never being fired from his position.
"That's a feat in itself," said John Ferruchie, a former course superintendent and a longtime friend and associate of Mr. Yakubisin.
Golf course superintendents always joke that they are hired to be fired because of the constant pressure of trying to appease a club's membership with smooth-as-silk greens and perfectly manicured fairways. But that never seemed to affect Mr. Yakubisin, who earned the respect of his peers and the admiration of his members for his ability to maintain a golf course that always offered premier playing conditions.
Mr. Yakubisin, a Greensburg resident who was director of golf course and grounds at Rolling Rock, died "peacefully" Thursday at UPMC Presbyterian, according to his family. He was 62.
Mr. Yakubisin battled throat cancer a number of years ago, according to friends, but recently developed complications related to a longtime heart ailment.
"He was always a good guy, a really nice, kind guy," said Les Botkin, who was the head golf professional at Youghiogheny Country Club when Mr. Yakubisin was the course superintendent. "When he got the job at Rolling Rock, I thought that was pretty spectacular. Golf can be such a viperous sport that you almost have to cheer for anyone who has something good happen to them."
Mr. Yakubisin was so well-liked and highly regarded that the six pallbearers at his funeral Mass at St. Vincent Basilica on Monday were employees from the Rolling Rock Club.
"That is the height of respect," Mr. Ferruchie said. "How many employees would carry their boss's body?"
A graduate of Hempfield High School and the University of Maryland, Mr. Yakubisin was a member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and a former past president of the Greater Pittsburgh Golf Course Superintendents Association and the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council.
He became involved with golf at an early age when he used to walk to nearby Mount Odin Park and sell hot dogs with his sister on the edge of the course. That led to work as a teenager on course maintenance and eventually took him to his first job as a course superintendent at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington after graduation. He left there to take a similar position at Youghiogheny.
"He just loved the game from an early age," said Mike Zedreck, a longtime friend and former superintendent who now is sales manager for Terra Links Inc., a sand and soil production facility in Jackson Center, Pa. "He loved the game of golf. He was not only devoted to every club he worked for; he gave of himself to the association and the industry."
Last October, Mr. Yakubisin received the GPGCSA's 2013 Christian Morup Award, which honors the person in the Pittsburgh area who best exemplifies integrity in the turfgrass profession and personal achievement. Curiously, Mr. Yakubisin was one of the people responsible for creating the award that is named in memory of a fellow course superintendent who was killed on the job.
"John was an outstanding professional and a very close friend," said Tom Bettle, a former superintendent at several Western Pennsylvania courses who manages a turfgrass research facility at Penn State University. "He was always there when you needed him, whether it was on a professional level or a volunteer level."
In addition to his parents, Mr. Yakubisin is survived by his wife of 39 years, Susan Eisaman Yakubisin; one daughter, Anne Yakubisin-Smith; and three sisters, Patsy Mills, Sue Bishop and Diane Qualey.
The family requests donations may be made to Greater Pittsburgh Golf Course Superintendents Association Scholarship and Research Fund, 2993 Amy Drive, South Park, PA 15129.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org.