Jack & Barbara Nicklaus
Jack & Barbara Nicklaus
Until September 1957, they were just two “kids,” two 17-year-olds from opposite sides of Columbus who had never met. That changed the first week of their freshmen year at The Ohio State University, when a friend introduced Barbara Bash to Jack Nicklaus on the steps of Mendenhall Lab. For Jack, the son of a successful pharmacist and the multi-sport star from Upper Arlington High School, was immediately smitten with Barbara, the daughter of a high school math teacher and the girl from North High on the other side of Route 315. Jack wasted no time in asking for a date, and as he recalls, “Barbara eventually fit me into her schedule after a couple weeks.”
It was the first chapter in a love story that continues to write and re-write itself.
Just under three years after that meeting on the campus of Ohio State, the two were married on July 23, 1960—of course, picking a Saturday that coincided with the PGA Championship, because Jack, a fast-rising amateur golfer, was not eligible to play in that major championship. Fourteen months later—to the day—Barbara and Jack Nicklaus started their family, with the birth of Jack Nicklaus II. It was a family that would eventually burgeon to five children, and decades later, 22 grandchildren.
It seemed like the perfect storybook family from Middle America. Until one day in 1966.
It was then that their only daughter Nan, just 11 months old at the time, gave these young parents the biggest scare of their young lives. Jack and Barbara’s baby girl was at times struggling to breathe and was suffering repeated choking episodes. Baffled, they took Nan to Columbus Children’s Hospital—now Nationwide Children’s—and doctors, using an adult bronchoscope, discovered that Nan had inhaled a blue crayon. The crayon eventually broke into pieces, fell in her lung, and led to pneumonia. Mom and Dad endured anxiety-filled days until doctors and nurses essentially saved Nan’s life.
This story had a happy ending, but the emotional impact of these moments has never been forgotten, and it immediately began to shape the Nicklaus family’s future.
“It was then that we pledged to each other that if we were ever in a position to help others, we wanted to help children.” Jack and Barbara Nicklaus said. “It is said there is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. So early in our lives, we wanted to extend that hand to lift up children.”
To the rest of the world, Nan’s father is golf icon Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear and the greatest champion in the history of the game, and Barbara Nicklaus is the First Lady of Golf who has been decorated with some of the game’s most prestigious awards. To Nan, however, Jack and Barbara are just Dad and Mom – and they are her heroes.
But Jack and Barbara aren’t heroes to only Nan. Their gratitude for the lifesaving care she received, and the subsequent pledge, sparked a lifelong passion and commitment to champion the well-being of children everywhere. It eventually led them to establish the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation in 2004. Since then, they’ve helped children and families around the world access cutting-edge, pediatric healthcare.
Barbara Bash and Jack Nicklaus at college in 1960
Parade in Columbus for Jack Nicklaus after 1962 US Open win
Barbara and Nan Nicklaus in 1965
Jack Nicklaus and family in 1966
Jack holding Gary Nicklaus at the 1973 PGA Championship
Jack Nicklaus with family at the 1980 PGA Championship
Jack and Jack Nicklaus Jr. hug at the 1986 Masters
Jack and Jackie Nicklaus in 2005 at The Masters
Jack and Steve Nicklaus at the 2005 British Open
Jack Nicklaus with family receiving the Congressional Gold Medal