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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Nashua golfer Val Poulin recalled as true character

One after another, golfers were turning down a wager put forth by Nashua Country Club’s newest and contender for cockiest member. It appeared nobody would take the bait for a one-on-one match, using just two clubs over the golf course’s final four holes.

Perhaps the club regulars were simply leaving the offer on the table for the one man they knew couldn’t pass up a bet. ...

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One after another, golfers were turning down a wager put forth by Nashua Country Club’s newest and contender for cockiest member. It appeared nobody would take the bait for a one-on-one match, using just two clubs over the golf course’s final four holes.

Perhaps the club regulars were simply leaving the offer on the table for the one man they knew couldn’t pass up a bet.

So many years have passed since that early 1990’s day, but NCC member Dick Greenwood says the old tale is a true one. He turned down the offer right along with so many before and after him.

“The guy was arrogant. He comes strutting into The Bunker and insisting that somebody take him up on his wager,” said Greenwood, referring to the country club’s lounge area. “In comes Val Poulin. To our surprise even he turned the guy down on the first offer.

“But this guy kept pushing it – $100 a hole I think it was. Then Val calls Gerri to bring him money and the two headed
out to the 15th tee.

“With just a putter and 5 iron, Val won all four holes.”

That new NCC member never had a chance against the man known for putting up the old $5 dollar sign on the tee.

Valmor “Val” Poulin Jr. certainly loved making bets on the golf course, and anybody will tell you how much straighter he’d hit that drive after a glass of scotch. He was a larger-than-life character to all who knew him.

While his vices, gambling and scotch, are what people joke about when reminiscing about Poulin, it’s his true love of family and friends that made him the well-rounded man’s man that died Aug. 4 at the age of 93.

But to define Poulin by his age would be a mistake, according to Gerri Allen-Poulin, his wife of 22 years.

“Even as old as he was in physical years, his spirit was always at least 30 years younger,” she said. “People might look at his age and say he was old, but he certainly died well before his time. He was way younger than his years.”

After graduating from Nashua High School, the son of the late Valmor Poulin Sr. and Grace Poulin, served in the United States Army. He returned to the Gate City where he lived with his first wife Lucille, who passed away several years ago, and their three children Virginia “Ginny”, Valerie and Michael.

It was during this time, while co-owner of the former Nashua Industrial Machine Corporation with famous inventor Lester Gidge, that he met a young Bill Lochhead.

“My dad owned a business right near Val’s in The Millyard,” Lochhead said. “If we needed a part fixed or fabricated he’d do it.”

Now 78 years old, Lochhead looks back on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons when his foursome of younger golfers would face-off against Poulin’s crew on the links. The two became good friends over the years, both on and off the course.

“He was quite a competitor,” Lochhead said. “He won club championships. He was always playing State Ams or USGA events.

“More importantly, he was a guy’s guy, a great friend and a lover of life.”

His love was cast onto everyone around him, especially his family. When he married Gerri 22 years ago, that circle grew larger with the addition of stepson David and stepdaughter Julie. He was the proud grandfather of 16 grandchildren and nine great-grand
children.

“I was a lot younger than Val,” Gerri said, “but I never even took age into account with him. He never really acted his age.”

Gerri remembers nights out on the town, crossing the border into Lowell, Mass., where the two would dance the night away at the Spear House Restaurant. Poulin loved music, especially big band, and would either jitter bug across the dance floor or pick up the violin to get his fix. He had an ear for the music, much like his success in athletic endeavors, Poulin could hear a few notes and be playing along as if he’d practiced playing it for years.

The Nashua Elks, American Legion and VFW member was a little bit of everything, and whatever he did, he did well.

He was more than golf on the athletic field. A self-taught tennis player, he would eventually pass the new skill on to his stepchildren and grandchildren.

“He taught me to golf,” Gerri said. “I never had a racket or club in my hand until I met him. He was a pretty good teacher, which I’m sure wouldn’t surprise anybody.

“I had been playing for only a year and I entered my first tournament, the Boys and Girls Club Tourney, at Green Meadow in Hudson. I kept saying I don’t think I’m ready for this, and he kept assuring me that I was going to do just fine.

“I won the women’s net title and he won the men’s gross title that year.”

Although not defining him as a man, golf was always a big part of Poulin’s life.

A member of the New Hampshire Senior Golf Association and the U.S. Senior Golf Association, the NCC member would also enjoy time with friends on the links at any Friel family course, Manchester Country Club and Sky Meadow Country Club in Nashua.

In fact, it was at Sky Meadow that a 69-year-old Poulin won his second John H. Wollen City Tournament title in a playoff against then-33-year-old Phil Pleat.

Now a 57-year-old Granite State amateur golfing legend in his own right, Pleat still gets a kick out of that 19th hole and how Poulin finished him off by chipping in for the win.

“James was just born,” said Pleat referring to his son, “It was an exciting time for me, and I thought I had a win locked up. But I guess Val had other plans. I think he was 25 feet out and he hit his shot to beat me. He was a complete gentleman on and off the golf course. He was a pleasure to play with and against.

“That playoff loss helped my game. A couple weeks later I won my first Mid-Am title in Laconia. That was a memorable time for me, and Val was a memorable person.”

Both on the course, where Pleat classifies Poulin as “one of those colorful characters that’s missing from the game these days,” and off the course, where “whenever I would run into him, he would always ask me about my kids and my wife. He was just a great, great guy. He will be missed.”

Pleat also backs up Gerri’s claims that Poulin never saw a dance floor he didn’t like.

“I remember seeing him at the Tri-State matches,” Pleat said. “He’d be playing for the senior team, and then at the after party he’d be dancing the night away.”

It took breaking his hip a couple of years ago to slow him down, but he outlived his closest friends – John Wollen, Phil Friel, Larry Elliott, Jim McDonald and Mike Tamulevich. The latter’s diagnosis of cancer hitting Poulin the hardest.

“It still gets to me now when I think about it,” Gerri said. “It’s the first time I ever saw Val cry. Mike needed a kidney. ‘I wish I had a kidney to give him,’ Val kept saying, but he only had one and a half himself. There wasn’t anything he could do to help his friend and that devastated him.”

That was Poulin. His
larger-than-life personality hid the generosity that those closest to him saw daily.

“Extreme generosity,” Gerri said. “That should be something he is really remembered for. He liked to give even when he really didn’t have it to give. He’d give even if he knew you’d never be able to repay him. He liked to teach, even if it meant he’d lose.”

Of course, losing wasn’t in Poulin’s vocabulary. Especially when the hand went up signaling five. Traveling the fairway in his golf cart, his friends still picture his smile.

That smile was even bigger if he had some scotch – better known as a “cup of tea,” ginger ale, or a sip from his bottle of Maalox – before teeing off, because his drive was that much straighter.

That mental image makes Lochhead laugh.

“He should be one of those people highlighted in ‘Reader’s Digest,’ ” Lochhead said. “One of its ‘Most Unforgettable Characters.’ ”

A sentiment Gerri certainly agrees with.

“He had qualities that need to be shared more by everybody – qualities that make it a shame somebody of his caliber has to die,” Gerri said. “Honestly, I don’t think there are enough Val Poulins in this world.”