Todd Kramer was a 13-year-old eighth grader when he found his athletic calling. Kramer, a 1986 graduate of Saugerties High and member of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018, found golf.
“A childhood friend of mine with the same first name, Todd Morgan, him and I used to go out on the Sawyerkill golf course and find and sell balls to the golfers,” Kramer said. “We found a club one day, started hitting balls, and I kind of got into it. I think what I liked the most is I could practice on my own most of the time. I didn’t have to do it as a formal team practice. You can do that a little bit in other sports, but golf is one you can practice totally on your own. I really enjoyed that. I got hooked on the fact that you can hit a perfect shot but you can’t consistently hit a perfect shot.”
Until then, he’d played a fairly standard ration of sports, including soccer, Biddy League basketball, and especially baseball. “Baseball was the main sport,” said Kramer. “My dad was a baseball guy.”
Parents Pete and Sylvia Kramer are retired Saugerties teachers. Todd Kramer said people still tell him how much they love his parents. Pete Kramer, a longtime sports coach in Saugerties, is also in the Hall of Fame.
Todd Kramer’s love of golf took hold quickly, and he joined the varsity team. “We were competitive,” he said. “I really wanted to play in that first year, and I’d been practicing a lot and playing a lot. I remember kind of working my way into the starting lineup as an eighth grader on a pretty decent team. It was a big deal.”
His talent and drive put him in the starting lineup, but at the expense of Mike Hasenbalg, a 1983 SHS alum and member of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016.
“He was older than me, and I remember I took his spot as an eighth grader,” Kramer said. “That wasn’t popular with some of the older kids on the team, but Mike — and I remember to this day — handled it with so much class. He came up to me and said I deserved it, and he encouraged me. I’ll never forget that, because it taught me how to take disappointment in the right way. He was only a high-school kid at that time, and that stuck in my head.”
Under coach Bob Varrell, the team had a staggering 125-2 record. Kramer’s accolades during that run are numerous: He was a four-year all-league award winner, twice qualified for the state championship, was a three-time team captain, and shared with his teammates four straight Larry Johnson Memorial trophies honoring the best golf team in the league. As a senior, he earned the Delisio Award as the most outstanding golfer in Ulster County. And he and his Sawyer teammate Billy Travaglione qualified for the 1984 Big I Insurance Classic.
“Out of New York State they took three golfers, and we were two of them,” said Kramer. “We got flown all expenses paid to Mississippi and competed in a national tournament. We met a couple of guys there that ended up playing on the PGA tour years later.”
Kramer also continued playing basketball in high school, as a center-forward for the Sawyers on JV and varsity. “I loved basketball,” he said. “It’s one of my true loves, but I wasn’t very good. I was a big body down low.”
Kramer continued golf in college as a four-year captain of the NCAA Division III team at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he also received his degree in political science. After college, he was a PGA golf pro for eight years, including a stint as head pro at Cat Island in South Carolina and Groff’s Farm Country Club in Pennsylvania.
He tried to make it playing the game full-time. It didn’t last. “I learned very quickly how expensive that is, and the truth was my game just wasn’t at that level,” he said. “On a given day I could maybe squeeze in, but could never get to the point that these guys were day in and day out. So I turned to the business side of things and I enjoyed teaching.”
After marrying his wife Joan in 1993, Kramer began thinking about hanging up his golf bag, at least professionally. “At that point my wife and I were figuring out how we were going to raise kids, and I kind of didn’t feel fulfilled by golf as much,” he said. “If you want to know the truth, I think God was leading me in another direction.”
That direction took them to the Milton Hershey School, a private philanthropic school originally founded and funded in 1909 by the chocolate magnate to serve impoverished male orphans. With over $12 billion in assets, it is one of the wealthiest schools in the world, and it has since expanded its scope. Though the school is non-sectarian, exploration of belief in God and prayer is encouraged. Students are required to attend a Judeo-Christian chapel service on Sundays.
“I was coaching a college golf team at Messiah College, and one of the students told me about this place and said, ‘Coach, you’d be a great house parent,’” Kramer said. “And I thought, ‘What the heck is a house parent?’”
Kramer describes what he and his wife have done at the Milton Hershey School for the past 18 years as being “surrogate parents” in a family setting to twelve boys in grades nine through eleven. The school’s 2000 students are fully supported. “They’re housed, given food, medical, clothing, education, everything,” said Kramer. “If they earn it and their grades are there, they [Hershey] will even pay for college.”
Kramer said that he and his wife took to the job with the same enthusiasm he had showed for golf at an early age.
“We joked that we went through a very early midlife crisis,” Kramer said. “My wife was an executive in the corporate world …. For Joan and I, I think it’s a calling. I truly believe God placed us here. It’s challenging, but at the same time it’s also deeply, deeply rewarding.”
It’s also been rewarding for their children. Their son Kole is 16 and their daughter Hope is 13.
“What’s been really awesome is that they’ve both been able to grow up in a really diverse environment,” he said. “That has made them completely color-blind. It’s been a great way to expose them to different ethnicities and different backgrounds. And I think they’ve both developed a heart for helping people as well.”
Kramer said he’s humbled by his impending induction into the Hall of Fame, especially because of what it means to his parents.
“Everyone in Saugerties knows my mom and dad,” he said. “I think this was a big deal for them and obviously an honor for them. I only get back to Saugerties once a year for a couple of days, so I’ve really been kind of separated from that whole environment. I’m looking forward to seeing some people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
The 54th annual Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony and dinner will be held on Saturday, April 14 at Diamond Mills, with doors opening at 5 p.m., a cocktail and meet-and-greet hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the ceremony beginning immediately after. Tickets, which include some drinks and dinner, are $30 and can be reserved by e-mailing Mike Hasenbalg (firstname.lastname@example.org) or calling 914-388-2348.