An Indiana Transmission Plant employee knows how quickly someone can go from living the dream to hitting rock bottom, and going through that firsthand, he now dedicates his free time to helping those who are down and out.
Greg Klonne was living the dream as a golf professional, swinging clubs with some of the biggest names out there one year, and the next he was living out of his car. It’s a story most people in his life don’t know but one that shaped his life and perspective.
“Ninety-five percent of the people that know me don’t know this, that I was homeless. I’ve kept it very private. Matter of fact, it took me a couple of years to tell my new wife. But what happened was I just kept telling myself, I kept praying, saying, ‘If I get out of this, God, I’m going to help other people,’” he said.
Years ago, Klonne was the golf professional at a club in Illinois, and while there, he was asked to participate in a variety of charity golf events, which he loved doing. He later moved to Vancouver with his then-wife, who was from there, and became a golf professional there where he played in charity events with celebrities like Leslie Nielsen and Michael Jordan.
But it all soon came crashing down. Just a year out from playing in celebrity-laced outings, Klonne’s life didn’t look anything like it did. He became homeless.
“I ended up getting divorced because I didn’t like living in Canada, and then basically what happened was I spent all the money I had left after the divorce. I lived in an apartment for about four months and became homeless,” he said.
Klonne began living out of his car in a small town in Washington. At night, he’d park under a street light, read his Bible, and sleep. During the day, he would do what he could to make “any amount of money” to buy a three-piece chicken dinner to make it last for two days.
He knew people who would invite him to their homes to eat. While he never told them he was living out of his car, he suspected they already knew.
“What I found out about it was it doesn’t matter who you are. You could be at rock bottom tomorrow. People don’t understand that you could be at rock bottom tomorrow or next week or next month, and you have to not lose faith. You’ve got to believe in yourself, got to believe in your fellow man,” Klonne said. “You have to believe there’s a purpose for you.”
During those trying times, he said he stayed positive and generally was “fine.” He appreciated any help he got, and he made a promise to himself to one day pay it forward.
Eventually, Klonne moved to Kokomo because his parents lived in Peru, and he got a job at the Kokomo Country Club as an assistant golf professional working for Mal McMullen and then Cary Hungate. Then in 1994, he got on at then-Chrysler. He’s been there since, and with a steady, good income, he’s lived up to his promise to himself.
Klonne, his wife, and friends find people in need of food and provide. They regularly give to food pantries in Kokomo, Burlington, Peru, and Michigantown, and he participates in several charity golf outings each year.
The Indiana Transmission Plant team leader said his own situation — going from “top to bottom to I’m OK” — changed his perspective entirely.
“When you don’t have, you’re grateful for anything. And then when you have, if you’ve been in that experience, you’re still grateful for everything. So it doesn’t matter whether you have everything or you have nothing; you’re still grateful,” he said.
At the end of the day, he hopes to be remembered for helping others.
“When I die, I want people to say, ‘You know what, he gave back not just to his community but to others.’ It doesn’t matter that I was an athlete. It doesn’t matter that I was this. What did I do to help my fellow man out? What did I do to help anybody out? And that’s more what I want out of life than anything else is when it’s my time to go that people say, ‘He helped a lot of people. He gave a lot,’” he said.
Klonne said he was grateful to have a job that allows him to help others, and he encouraged anyone who’s able to give back to so.