North County Times: Semper Fi Fund finds friend in local businessman

By Lola Sherman | North County Times | | May 30, 2012

When the inaugural Semper Fi Open golf tournament begins with fanfare Monday at the Shadowridge Country Club in Vista, it will have been put together by a man who feels a great need to give back for all he has been offered in his adopted land.

“I wanted to do something for this wonderful country,” organizer Chris Keogh said. “I’ve had opportunities I would not have had anywhere else. I just wanted to give something back.”

Nevertheless, it took Australian-born Keogh 46 years to become a U. S. citizen.

Keogh laughingly says he told naturalization officials at citizenship ceremonies in January that “I like to think things through” and not make snap decisions.

He’d come to this country in 1966.

In the years since he’s been here, Keogh has founded his own successful company, Enviremedial Services Inc. based in Oceanside, raised a family and participated in disaster relief efforts in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, as well as after Hurricane Rita, which resulted in death and destruction along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. in 2005.

And he put together another golf tournament in Lafayette, La., like the one here to benefit Marines and their families. That one helped the Marine Corps League aid families of the deployed.

Keogh said his company treats contaminated water on 130 military bases throughout the country. It also builds and maintains equipment

“Obviously we have been very successful,” he said. “I wanted to turn around and do something for the Marines.

“My great fear has been that after Afghanistan is done, these wonderful guys are going to be forgotten,” Keogh added. “These guys need us for many years to come.”

Even as a 19-year-old in his native Sydney, Keogh’s life was not without interest.

For a month in the mid 1960s, he served as a personal assistant to U.S. singing star Tony Martin, Martin’s wife, dancer Cyd Charisse, and their son, Tony Martin Jr., then a teenager himself.

“It was the best job I ever had in my life,” Keogh said.

(Charisse died in 2008 and Tony Jr. last year at age 60, but, from all accounts, Martin is still alive at 98 and sang professionally as recently as 2009 at the age of 96.)

Keogh’s company is dedicating its efforts at this year’s golf tournament to his daughter, Michelle, 33, who died on Mother’s Day, leaving three children ages 13, 11 and 5. Her funeral was Wednesday at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Carlsbad.

Michelle’s body rejected a heart transplant it had received three years earlier.

She had been very active in planning the golf tournament for the Marines before her untimely death, her father said.

The tournament is set to start at 11:40 a.m. with an opening talk by Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and a color guard and bagpipers. The opening program, Keogh said, is open to the public although the tournament itself is totally booked with a capacity 144 players,

So far, he said, it has raised $120,000 but there are still opportunities to donate to Semper Fi Fund by sending checks made out to the Fund and noting that they are on behalf of the Semper Fi Open to Enviremedial Services, Inc., 2655 Vista Pacific Drive, Oceanside, Ca., 92056

Keogh said he carefully checked out a handful of possible charity recipients before settling on the Semper Fi Fund because it is so well managed with only 5 percent of the money raised being used for administration.

“What struck me was the low overhead,” Keogh said of the locally based group.

According to the organization’s Web site, it has received a top four-star rating three years in a row from Charity Navigator, a group that monitors nonprofits nationwide.

The Semper Fi Fund was founded in 2004 by Karen Guenther, a registered nurse and wife of an active-duty Marine, when she saw how many troops were returning from the battlefield ill or wounded with huge and, in some cases, perpetuating needs.

It provides for things like wheelchairs, physical therapy, family support, career counseling and adaptive homes and transportation.

So far, the site says, it has issued 43,000 grants totaling more than $62 million.

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