How the ball got rolling: from the man who started it all to the youth playing today, a brief history of The Buddy Fund

Robert “Buddy” Blattner lived a life dedicated to the game. From winning the world men’s doubles table tennis championship for Beaumont High School in St. Louis to playing for the Cardinals, the New York Giants, and the Philadelphia Phillies, only breaking in professional baseball to serve in the U.S. Navy, Blattner dedicated a large part of his life to playing sports. When he finished on the field, he took to the box, where he led a prosperous career broadcasting for the St. Louis Browns, Liberty and Mutual networks, and the Game of the Week on ABC and CBS. He was also the voice of the Cardinals, the Los Angeles/California Angels, the Kansas City Royals, and the St. Louis Hawks basketball team. In 1980, Blattner was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

While broadcasting for the St. Louis Hawks, Blattner chose to auction off his own sports paraphernalia and memorabilia as a fundraiser to jumpstart a charity, The Buddy Fund.

With the support of his friends and family, Blattner grew the Buddy Fund. Although Blattner passed away from lung cancer at the age of 89, his legacy was cemented by his supporters as they kept the Buddy Fund alive.

Years later, as the volunteer-based organization moved forward, the traction was beginning to wear. It was at this point that the Buddy Fund hired its first employee, executive director Ann Lederman, in 2017.

“They really needed somebody who could have the time, passion, and skills to move it forward. I did see the progress firsthand because my role as the executive director was to improve and grow the Buddy Fund,” Lederman said. “The existing chairman, Tim Murch, reached out to me and he said, ‘I worry about the future of the Buddy Fund and I need somebody like you to grow it and continue to sustain it.”

When Lederman was hired, she focused on directing the organization to engage, grow and diversify the Board, develop and implement processes and procedures along with rebranding and a new website to name a few of the priorities. As a result, the Buddy Fund was able to gain the attention it needed to expand into the nonprofit it is today.

Lederman attributes this progress to members and volunteers who reflect Blattner’s original vision, especially the dedicated Board members and young leaders.

“You run a business one way, but when you run a nonprofit, you have to look at it through a different lens. As we became more visible through the efforts of our website presence, social media, and Board Members we grew in leaps and bound. This visibility also drew in more donors as well as the youth organizations that needed our help. “ Lederman said. “Without the board members, nothing could be done. You also need volunteers, young leaders, interns, you need donors, to run it all. I’m in awe every day of the passion and the commitment of their time, their talents, and what they give. They truly believe in the mission of changing lives through sports and without them, the Buddy Fund couldn’t exist.”

A large development within the Buddy Fund was the introduction of the Young Leaders in 2020.

“When I was hired, Tom Wesolowski was the youngest guy on the board. I was just impressed by him, he didn’t say a whole lot and I asked him, ‘How would you like to start a Young Leaders Group?’ Tom was the chairman and it just blossomed. We had events that would attract the young people and then we educated them on what the Buddy Fund was about,” Lederman said.

Now, there are 20 Young Leaders and Wesolowski still serves as the chair.

“The [Young Leaders] are an extension of our amazing operations board. We are consistently looking for new ways to help make our mission more efficient so that we can reach more organizations, thus changing the lives of even more kids in the St. Louis area,” Wesolowski said. “My goal was to find a way to get like-minded young professionals involved with our mission. The Buddy Fund has been around a long time, but we needed help growing our brand – this group can do that.”

Just the year before Young Leaders was formed, The Buddy Fund was honored with the Community Service Award from the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.

Since its creation in 1962, the Buddy Fund has grown to serve 150+ recipient youth organizations across the St. Louis area. Although Blattner passed away in 2009, the Buddy Fund continues to honor his name and mission.

The Buddy Fund partners with equipment vendors and youth organizations to provide quality sports equipment and opportunities to at-risk youth. You can contribute by donating directly, volunteering your time, or participating in upcoming events such as the 61st Annual Golf Classic and Auction.

Click here to get involved and/or make your donation today.


Written by The Buddy Fund Intern:

Makayla Archambeault

Lafayette High School Class of 2022

University of Central Florida Class of 2026