Topeka native Gary Woodland’s extended family has traveled across the country to watch him play.
So it was no surprise Tuesday evening when those close to him — Gary and Wanda Bond, Yolanda McKeever and Payne Mendenhall, among others — joined Woodland in downtown Topeka for a block party celebrating the professional golfer’s June 16 win at the U.S. Open.
Gary Bond said he and his wife watched the tournament “every step of the way.”
“We were all screaming and cheering when he won,” Wanda Bond said.
“We’re his fans,” McKeever added.
But perhaps there was no bigger fan present at the block party Tuesday than Woodland’s mother, Linda.
She said the citywide celebration was “overwhelming and heartwarming,” and she enjoyed seeing so many people show up early in anticipation of her son’s appearance.
“I hope it’s a lot of fun,” Linda said before the festivities began. “We’re just so blessed to have this many people come out. I’m so humbled by how many people have come out here to celebrate Gary’s success.”
Gary Woodland's relatives and friends were among hundreds of people who crowded into downtown Tuesday evening to honor him.
While Woodland gained national sporting acclaim last month by capturing his first major championship and fourth PGA Tour title, he also reflected positively on the community by showing himself to be a "great human being" in the days following his championship, said Matt Pivarnik, who helped organize Tuesday's event as president and CEO of the Greater Topeka Partnership.
Pivarnik made reference to Woodland's friendship with Special Olympics golfer Amy Bockerstette, who has Down syndrome, and his support for Folds of Honor, a charity that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members.
"This is a really good guy, and I think that's a reflection on the place he grew up," Pivarnik said.
He added that Woodland showed an "incredible" loyalty to Topeka during interviews he conducted in the days after he won the U.S. Open.
Pivarnik was among those present as Woodland was honored during Tuesday's ceremony, which took place on a stage in front of Briman's Leading Jewelers, 734 S. Kansas Ave.
Recognizing people from the Topeka community who achieve extraordinary success is important, and the GTP — which arranged Tuesday's block party — stepped up its efforts beginning last year to do that, Pivarnik said.
He said the GTP in May 2018 helped arrange a block party held at Topeka Performing Arts Center to honor Topeka native Kyla Jade after she took third place in the "The Voice," a national singing competition that airs on NBC.
Pivarnik added that as soon as Woodland won the U.S. Open on Father's Day, June 16, his cellphone "went crazy" with phone calls from people saying "we have to celebrate this."
When Pivarnik learned Woodland could be in Topeka on July 2 — only 16 days after his U.S. Open victory — he said he thought trying to arrange a block party that day would be extremely challenging.
As it turned out, it wasn't as difficult as Pivarnik initially feared, thanks to a concerted community effort. He said the city of Topeka provided barricades and arranged to block off traffic on S. Kansas Avenue in downtown Topeka, while Shawnee County's Parks For All Foundation agreed to provide a stage.
CoreFirst and people from the Shawnee Heights school district, where Woodland graduated high school, volunteered to help with costs. A former Topekan, whom Pivarnik didn't name, made arrangements with Wilson Sporting Goods to provide items to be given away.
Meanwhile, GTP events director Rosa Cavazos and Lindsay Lebahn, executive director of Forge, Topeka's young professionals organization, made efforts that were "a little bit beyond human" to put the event together, Pivarnik said.
He noted that Woodland's win came during a month in which Washburn Tech East opened on June 19 and officials with the Kicker Country Stampede revealed June 20 that their event had found a new permanent home at Topeka's Heartland Motorsports Park.
"We had a pretty darned incredible month," he said.