Louis (Lou) King Jr., who elevated the Amana Refrigeration brand worldwide, helped create one of the most significant events in Iowa sports history and founded a model golf rehabilitative programs for veterans, died Saturday evening at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City following a brief illness. He was 93.
In 1946-47, King enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he became starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes. After graduation, King declined a $500 offer to sign with the NFL Buffalo Bills for a $7,500 salary. “I decided to make more money as a door-to-door salesman. I loved it,” he once said. After spending 10 years working for Pillsbury, he arrived at Amana Refrigeration in 1958.
King advanced through sales, marketing and advertising at Amana, and was a member of its board and executive committee.
King began playing golf at age 30. It soon became his passion.
It also was the best path to meet customers, King discovered, and he used that platform for advancing Amana’s brand and entertaining customers and retailers.
The Amana VIP Pro-Am was created in 1967, first as a closed event, then open to the public at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. The event drew as many as 20,000 fans at its peak, with a guest list that featured sports and Hollywood celebrities, many of the finest golfers in the world and country western performers from Nashville.
It was dubbed “the Masters of the pro-ams.”
“The Amana VIP was tremendous, and Lou guided it,” said 1968 Masters Champion Bob Goalby, whose said his friendship with King blossomed from the start. In time, Goalby helped handpick a group of professionals to wear the signature white Amana cap.
Goalby wore the Amana cap in 1968 when he won The Masters.
The Amana VIP also was the premier fundraising event for the University of Iowa athletic scholarship fund. It included the largest single donations to women’s collegiate sports.
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In 1982, King was lured to the PGA of America, becoming executive director of an association with a membership then just over 7,500. The PGA needed financial reorganization, and King was its premier recruit. He served until 1987, guiding a plan for improved revenues and championing the Ryder Cup — actively campaigning in meetings with television network executives to resurrect a competition that was once lopsided in America’s favor and in danger of being forgotten.
King, who was inducted into the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 1993, went on to be a consultant for several golf companies before devoting himself to another passion — serving America’s veterans in the nation’s heartland.
When Riverside Casino & Golf Resort opened in 2006, King showed up at the door of Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl carrying a list of 30 action items that, Kehl remembered, “Lou said would help grow my business.”
High on King’s list was moving the Iowa PGA Section headquarters from Cedar Rapids to Riverside and beginning a golf program for veterans.
The resort opened the Rees Jones-designed Blue Top Ridge at Riverside in 2007, which led to King launching the Golf for Injured Veterans Everywhere, or GIVE, program.
King’s vision was, he said, “provide a cost-free program to the veterans that features the instruction of a PGA Professional, the partnership of the local Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and a welcoming golf course.”
GIVE operates today at three locations: at Riverside, at The Falls at Grand Falls Casino & Resort in Larchwood; and at Warrior Run Golf Club in Norwalk.
King is survived by his wife of 73 years, Eunice; three children: Louis III, Susan and Timothy; a brother, Charles Calvin King; four grandchildren; and four great grandchildren.
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A private family memorial will be conducted at a later date. Any memorial donations are requested to be sent to the GIVE Foundation, Attention: Bobbi Adamson, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside, IA 52327.