Army veteran surprises family at Firestone
U.S. Army Major Tim Jenkins isn't great at keeping secrets, at least according to his youngest stepdaughter.
But when officials at PGA Tour headquarters came up with the idea to stage a surprise return from Kuwait for the five-year volunteer at the Bridgestone Invitational on Saturday, Jenkins knew his family deserved something special.
It took planning and coordination between tournament and tour staffers, a touch of deception by Jenkins and a couple of strokes of luck.
But it all came together, turning the annual salute to the military into a tearful reunion and a joyous family celebration on Fourth of July weekend.
"It couldn't have gone any better. I can't believe we pulled it off. What a great homecoming," Jenkins said, his voice quivering. "I'm so excited to be home."
Rania Jenkins thought she was picking up her husband's five-year volunteer pin as the World Golf Championships event at Akron's Firestone Country Club honored him for his service. She brought their son Aiden, 3, and her three children -- Rebecca Semaan, 23, a student at John Carroll; Peter Semaan, 21, a specialist in the Ohio National Guard about to leave for training at Fort Hood; and Joyce Semaan, 16, a student at Avon High School.
Rania was still wiping away tears minutes after tour player Billy Hurley III, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and former officer in the Persian Gulf, said, "We actually brought you back a little something from Kuwait."
"I'm so shocked right now I'm at a loss for words," said Rania, a native of Lebanon who emigrated to the United States as a teenager and operates Rania's Hair Salon and Spa in Rocky River. They married six years ago, but Jenkins' deployments have kept him away for 2 1/2 .
Jenkins said no one in their family except Rania's sister knew of Saturday's surprise, although Rebecca was suspicious. She was the first to run out to hug Jenkins when he came around the corner.
"I had a feeling it was going to happen like this. I asked my mom if she talked to him today, and she was, like, 'Yeah, he was in his room,'" Rebecca said. "I still had a theory, so I was looking out for him, still thinking he was going to show up."
Landing in Ohio about 4 p.m. Friday, Jenkins stayed at a hotel near the golf course and spent part of Saturday in a skybox on the course, the rest in a villa beside the lake on the North Course hiding out.
"I've been so excited, so nervous. I was anxious back there and I wanted to run out right away," he said. "It's great for the PGA Tour, for the Bridgestone Invitational, for everybody to help out to help me pull this off. It's just amazing. I'm so thankful and so blessed."
During his previous four years as a volunteer, Jenkins served as a member of the cellphone police. But his yearlong deployment in Kuwait forced him to help with volunteer recruitment on social media platforms while overseas. In early March, the tour surprised him with a care package of 20 golf clubs, a 5-gallon bucket of balls and stacks of golf gear for service members at Camp Arifjan.
On Aug. 1, Jenkins must report to Izmir, Turkey, where the intelligence officer will work for the Allied Land Command for NATO.
Jenkins said originally he wasn't supposed to return home to Avon until the end of August. Then three months ago, a couple of things fell into place, and he told Rania he would be home July 1.
After learning of the surprise plan from Annie Davis of the PGA Tour and Glenda Buchanan, the administrator for Northern Ohio Golf Charities who runs the event's volunteer program, he told his wife he would return on Tuesday.
"She was not very happy," Jenkins said, adding that it was a big weekend for her family. "Two days ago, she was complaining that I'm missing a wedding, I'm missing a cookout on Sunday, I'm missing a party on Monday night, and she's tired of going to all these events by herself.
"Of course, I still had to continue to keep up the ruse, 'I'm sorry, sweetie, next year we can do all this stuff together.' She's been so great about the whole situation."
After the Firestone ceremony, Jenkins and his family headed to downtown Cleveland for a wedding. Jenkins sent Buchanan one of his suits and she had it cleaned and pressed. It was hanging on the doorknob of her office at the course.
"I even had his volunteer uniform cleaned and pressed," Buchanan said. "I just want him to look his best."
On Sunday, Jenkins won't be wearing that volunteer outfit, searching the crowd for fans taking cellphone pictures. But he did hope to spend two or three hours with Aiden and Peter at Firestone, especially since Rania is working.
"The opportunity to watch PGA golfers is something I wouldn't want to miss and it's only an hour away," he said. "This will be my first opportunity to bring my 3-year-old son. This is something I'm very passionate about. I hope he shares my passion and we have the rest of our lives to golf together."
This article was written by Marla Ridenour from The Akron Beacon Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.