Rundstrom to return for father?s tourney

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Paul Rundstrom holds his infant son Eric not long before the fatal plane crash in 1978. Eric, now 30, is returning to Hillsboro this week to play in the golf tournament named in his father?s honor and to learn more about him.

A surprise awaits golfers at this year?s 30th annual Paul Rundstrom Memorial Golf Tournament in Hillsboro this Saturday.

Eric Rundstrom, 30, who was barely one-month old when his father, Paul, died in a plane crash in 1978 soon after taking off from the Hillsboro Airport, is coming from Santa Rosa, Calif. to play in the tournament.

?My dad was a scratch golfer,? Eric said, ?which means he could shoot par nine out of 10 times golfing.?

Eric jokingly said he isn?t quite ready to declare himself as good as his dad, but he has about a 10 handicap?and has been playing only five years.

Although Eric was too young to remember his father, he said he hopes to connect with him on the very golf course Paul enjoyed for so many years.

?I am totally excited about this trip,? he said.

Eric?s sister, Jill Pap?a?michael, 38, who lives in southern Florida, said she isn?t able to attend this year?s tournament.

?I do plan on coming next year and beating my little brother,? she said with a laugh. ?We are both definitely planning on making the tournament a tradition.?

The event is bitter-sweet for both Eric and Jill, though.

?It (the crash) was incredibly sad,? Jill said. ?My step-mom was a young, first-time mom and Eric was barely a month old.?

Jill was visiting for the summer when the tragedy occurred.

?It happened a few days after I arrived for summer vacation with him and Naomi (Paul?s wife),? she said.

?I remember hearing the crash,? she added, ?and the funeral, but many of the painful memories are blocked out.?

For many people in Hillsboro, the event 31 years ago on June 20, 1978, will never be forgotten.

It was so difficult for Eric?s mother, that Paul?s younger sister, Ruth, moved Naomi and Eric to Spokane, Wash.

?Naomi needed a new start and Ruth wanted to give her the support she needed,? Jill said.

?My dad was a jock,? she said. ?He was a golf addict, too.?

The tournament was a perfect tribute for him, Jill and Eric agreed.

The accident was reported in the June 21, 1978, edition of the Hillsboro Star-Journal. The front-page story stated that the plane carrying Rundstrom and two other passengers, Dennis Klassen and Blaine Briggs of Hillsboro Industries, crashed into a wheat field shortly after 8 a.m. just south of the hedge row opening at the then-grass airstrip.

All three men survived the impact, but suffered severe burns over 85 percent to 100 percent burns on each victim.

All three were brought to Salem Hospital, then transferred later that morning by Fort Riley medical helicopter to the KU Medical Center burn unit.

Rundstrom died early that evening and the other two men died of their burns days and weeks later.

In a recent update, Hillsboro Free Press publisher Joel Klaassen stated his family had moved back to Hillsboro about a year before the accident and were just getting to know people in town.

?I was in my early 30s at the time and was trying to find my way as a business person and young adult. Paul had demonstrated leadership to me and that he was willing to get involved in the fabric of the community. I wished to be around someone like that,? he said.

?We had some things in common in that our children were about the same age and we were invited to the Rundstrom house for dinner either the night of the accident or maybe the next night. Obviously, that next step of friendship never took place,? Klaassen said.

The tournament was created about a year after Paul Rund?strom died and has been an annual event ever since. Net proceeds from the tournament go into the Paul Rundstrom Memorial Scholarship fund for a senior member of the high school golf team.

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