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News Obituary Article
SUWANEE: Sonny Ackerman, 73, golfer
By ANNA VARELA
After five years of struggle with a staph infection and other complications that destroyed flesh and bone, doctors had to amputate Sonny Ackerman's left leg just below the knee.
It wasn't long before his friends decided he needed to get out of the house and back on the golf course. The accomplished golfer took one swing and fell down. But he didn't quit.
"He did get up, and he did learn to play real well," said Jane Ackerman, his wife of 56 years.
Mr. Ackerman went on to found the Adaptive Golf Foundation to teach other disabled people how to play golf and to teach physical therapists the benefits of the sport. The foundation has run programs in metro Atlanta; Augusta; Sarasota, Fla.; Portland, Maine, and several other cities.
Oliver Perry "Sonny" Ackerman Jr. died Friday of complications after a fall at home. Mr. Ackerman, 73, had suffered for several years from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. today at Crowell Brothers Peachtree Chapel, 5051 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross.
Born in Preston, Mr. Ackerman and his wife met at Decatur First Baptist Church when they were both 15. They courted at church parties. "I wanted to know who that boy was cutting up in the back," said Jane Ackerman. They married at 17, and he served a stint with the Marines at Parris Island, S.C., where he played quarterback for the football team.
After finishing college at Georgia State University, he became a Realtor, with a focus on residential sales. He and partner Jack Royall ran about half a dozen offices under the name Royall Ackerman Real Estate.
Mr. Ackerman took up golf in the 1960s, partly as a way to spend time with business colleagues.
In 1984, a minor mishap changed his life. He fell from a ladder and broke his ankle. The infection that resulted and failed efforts to treat it eventually took his leg.
Jane Ackerman said golf allowed her husband to focus on helping others rather than dwelling on the loss of his limb. She said his game actually got better. He went from a 10 handicap before he lost his leg to a 6 once he learned how to play with a prosthetic leg.
He worked with people who were former golfers who'd lost a limb, suffered a stroke or had a brain injury. And he worked with people who'd never been on a golf course before, including people who use wheelchairs.
Bill Wellborn, a clinical neuropsychologist in Roanoke, Va., calls Mr. Ackerman a mentor.
"Sonny was just an inspiration to so many people," said Mr. Wellborn, who met Mr. Ackerman about 10 years ago and now helps to run adaptive golf clinics and organizes an annual fund-raising tournament in Roanoke.
"There was nobody he worked with that he felt couldn't hit a golf ball."
Mr. Wellborn said it didn't matter if the ball only went 10 yards. Aside from the physical benefits --- working on range of motion, coordination and strength --- the sports program gives handicapped and brain-injured people a chance to get out of the house and socialize with people who understand their challenges.
He said Roanoke's adaptive golf program, which draws up to 40 people for each monthly gathering, has been so popular that he worried what would happen to people in the winter when they couldn't play golf.
He decided to start a bowling program.
"Indirectly, Sonny started the bowling program . . . because of him helping me see the value of what all this does."
Other survivors include two children, Oliver P. "Dusty" Ackerman and LuAnn Godbee; his mother, Billie Bell Ackerman; and five grandchildren.