Mike McGee gets a tear in his eye when he listens to country music these days because so many songs are a reminder of his idyllic childhood in East Palestine, Ohio.
“Everybody knew each other,” said McGee. “Backyard games every day, whatever sport was in season. We’d leave and go play all day and sleep over at each other’s houses.
“It was safe, and everybody looked out for each other.”
With a father who played on the PGA Tour, the McGees could’ve lived anywhere. But Jerry McGee always said coming in from the Pittsburgh airport that he felt a sense of calm when he drove into East Palestine, beloved hometown of his wife Jill, who grew up across the street from the middle school. Jill taught the gifted program and sponsored the drama club at the middle school for 20 years. It’s where the McGees raised their two children, Mike and Michelle.
Mike still can’t believe what’s happening to his small town, which had a population of less than 5,000 at the 2020 census. After a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine last month, residents now face a number of health and financial concerns.
“It’s shocking,” said Mike. “The big thing is the soil, and the water treatment.”
Jerry McGee, a four-time winner on PGA Tour, died two years ago at age 77, about a month after he and Jill moved down to Florida to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
While the McGees are now gone from the area, many family friends remain.
“My mom has some friends she talks to and the world feels like it’s ending every day,” said Mike. “Others have the mindset of ‘We’re going to be fine.’ It’s really mixed depending on who you talk to.”
To help ease the financial burden so many now face, McGee and his wife, the legendary Annika Sorenstam, have partnered with Youngstown Mahoning Valley United Way, The Way Station and businessman Ed Muransky, owner of The Muransky Companies, to create “Annika Fore East Palestine.”
The national campaign will include a celebrity golf event hosted by Sorenstam and Muransky on May 15 at The Lake Club in Poland, Ohio. The course, which is about 15 minutes from East Palestine, is where McGee landed his first job as a bag boy.
“Mike and I wanted to do something to help his hometown during this time of need, and Ed was his first call. He’s very philanthropic and ran with the idea,” Sorenstam said.
“East Palestine is a close-knit community, and I enjoyed my many visits there over the years. We even had both of our kids baptized there, and held our receptions at the Lake Club afterwards, so this fundraiser brings us full circle.”
All the money raised will go to the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley fund earmarked for East Palestine support. Those interested in becoming involved are encouraged to visit AnnikaForeEastPalestine.com to donate, volunteer and learn more about the event.