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AUTHOR : MARK BUTTON

author-mark buttonMark Button has spent the past 17-plus years writing about sports for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He's worked for the Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rocky Mountain News, CNN/SportsIllustrated.com, Mobile Press-Register and Avid Golfer.

Originally from Kansas, Button has worked for Texas Links since 2008. He published his first children's book in 2011. "Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods" is a magical journey filled with character-building life lessons. Button plays golf about four times a month and carries an 8.7 GHIN handicap index.

He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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The Real Secret Santa

Written by Mark Button on 01 February 2008.

Often in golf, the little things count most. You can hit 300-yard drives all day, but it's the one 4-foot putt you made for birdie that can prove to be the difference in your final score.

Life can be the same way.

More than 20 years ago, Bill Pelham, a Houstonian and former PGA Tour pro, made a simple decision to do something special for some at-risk children during the holidays. He and his wife at the time didn't have kids of their own, so they decided to buy Christmas presents for someone else's.

Pelham, 58, never realized his generosity would have such a positive impact.

"This started in 1983 on kind of a whim," said Pelham, who played on Tour from 1976-80 and competed in five major championships. "I got to the point where it was not as fulfilling doing gift exchanges with my family, who seemed to have everything. I wanted to do something for someone less fortunate."

One night, Pelham and his wife drove past the Bellaire area's Kinder Emergency Shelter, which is housed in the Harris County Youth Services Center Building. At any given time, the shelter is home for up to 24 children who have been abused, abandoned or are runaways. Pelham decided on the spot to go buy some presents for the kids inside the shelter. Kids who would have to spend Christmas there. Kids Pelham had never met.

He bought about $300 worth of gifts and delivered them to the center. He made it an annual donation for the next five years, until he moved to Seattle in 1988. Pelham, who once held the course record (63) on the Cypress Creek Course at Champions Golf Club until Jim Furyk broke it by a stroke in the 2001 Tour Championship, moved back to Houston in 1991.

Upon his return, he started donating gifts to the emergency shelter. Pelham upped his game and called on close friends to donate, too. This year, they delivered about $1,200 in gifts to the 18 children who spent Christmas at the shelter.

"Mr. Pelham's contributions are really valued," said Gertrude Donovan, who has worked at the center for 23 years. "His way is special, because he asks the kids to make wish lists of what they want. Then Mr. Pelham and his group (which included Betsey Montle and Connie West), went out to buy them what they want."

Besides the gratification of knowing he's helping these children experience as close to a normal Christmas as possible, Pelham said shopping for the youngsters makes his Christmas experience fuller, richer and more memorable.

"The spirit of Christmas is about giving," he said. "It's too bad it's not that way year-round. The facility needs help throughout the year. They get kids in there all the time. When they're taken from their homes, they need basic supplies that you and I take for granted – soap, shampoo, clothes. By giving gift cards, the staff is able to purchase these items and give them to the kids who need them."

In one pre-teen girl's case, a large stuffed-animal puppy dog made a huge difference. The girl's parent had tried to kill the girl, her sibling and herself, according to Donovan. CPS got the children out of the home, but the girl tried to commit suicide in December. After spending about a week at the hospital, the girl returned to the shelter and awoke on Christmas morning to Fido, her new oversized, fluffy friend.

"I think it really helped," Donovan said. "I asked her if she liked it, and she said 'yes.' I told her she can lean against or hug on it when she's not feeling so great. She said she really liked it."

As of now, the girl is recovering and doing well, Donovan said.

"Mr. Pelham is one of our most valued volunteers," Donovan said. "And the kids don't even know him. They've never met him. He's like the real 'Secret Santa.'"

That might change soon.

Donovan has invited Pelham to come to the center next year on Christmas morning to personally deliver the gifts.

"I just can't think of anything that would make me smile more," Pelham said. "That would be the icing on the cake."

If you would like to make a donation to the Kinder Emergency Center, a program of Harris County Protective Services, and help at-risk children, please call 713-295-2500.

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