ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Bill Dillard can’t sink a hole in one, but he’s on par to raise $2 million for charity through the golf tournament he started 40 years ago.
“I play about six times a year so I’m pretty much an expert,” said Dillard with a laugh as he stood on the putting green at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge. “If I’m watching somebody really good, I get the urge for about 10 minutes and then I look for a fishing pole.”
Dillard may not play much, but he’s still getting results on the greens.
He organizes the annual MSI/Frontline Benefit Golf Tournament, a partnership between the company he started, MSI Mechanical Services and Frontline Outreach, an Orlando nonprofit that offers after-school activities for kids near the Washington Shores neighborhood.
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“In our first 31 years, we raised our first million dollars, and in the last nine years, we’ve raised our second million dollars. We’re about $13,000 shy of two million this year,” he said.
Dillard and his wife started the commercial and industrial HVAC contracting company back in 1974. Every year, they would host a golf game for employees and contractors.
“Golf was really a way to get your customers and your vendors together,” said Dillard, of the tournament beginnings.
It was all for fun. That was until he made a fateful service call in the early ‘80s at the request of a friend.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a friend that needs your help,’” Dillard recalled. “I said, ‘Sure,’ and I went down to Frontline and met CR Smith. He was the original founder of Frontline. I spent three and a half hours with him just walking the building and looking around. He had lots of air-conditioning problems.”
Smith’s mission at Frontline Outreach left an impression.
“So I went back to the office and said, ‘Hey, I need some volunteers. We’re going to go down Saturday and get this building back in shape,’” he said.
Dillard had 20 employees volunteer. From that point on, MSI has been one of the nonprofit’s biggest supporters.
Dwight Mitchell, Frontline’s outreach development director, said the partnership has allowed Frontline Outreach to grow. It is currently in the middle of a renovation and expansion called Frontline Innovation Studios.
“As a nonprofit organization, we rely on donations and people who respect and honor what we do for underserved children,” Mitchell said. “We rely on this golf tournament. It’s one of our biggest donations each year.”
Mitchell said Frontline Outreach has traditionally offered a host of sports activities for kids. And while sports are still a big part of what Frontline does, technology will play a bigger role as the nonprofit grows.
“We’ve decided to change our focus more toward emerging technology. The fourth industrial revolution, " Mitchell said. “Prepare our kids for coding, robotics and technology like AI. If our kids aren’t prepared for that, they’re not going to have jobs in the future.”
Dillard sold his company in 2008 but continues to organize the event.
“Bill is amazing,” Mitchell said. “He’s humble and he’ll try to downplay his accomplishments and all he’s done for this organization but it’s hard to find a human being that will dedicate such a large part of his life to making this great tournament.”
David Goerke, president and CEO of MSI, said that despite the ownership change, the company continues to support Frontline Outreach and its mission.
“Bill created this tournament by his name. The company he built was not only about his customers and employees but about the community,” Goerke said. “This is about community but it’s also to carry on what Bill was so passionate about.”
Dillard said while he and his former company have always been involved in the community, the charity golf tournament “really stuck with us.”
“It’s something that, long-term, we need to continue to support,” he said.
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