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Lynn Hummel: Lost golf balls — finders keepers

I plunked my bowl of Cheerios down on the kitchen counter on top of the newspaper and began my breakfast. The paper happened to be open to the want ad page covering everything from antiques to firearms, exercise equipment, hot tubs, miscellaneous (five Jukeboxes) and sporting goods. Under sporting goods, I noticed a punching bag, mount, pump and gloves. Tempting at $40. But what really caught my eye was this ad: “Golf Balls. 25¢ a piece. Your choice, cleaned and ready to go (phone number).”

I don’t golf, but the last time I priced golf balls, they were $30 to $48 a dozen. That’s $2.50 to $4 a ball. So, in my mind, I formed this picture of the 25¢ golf ball salesman. He’s a boy, 11-13 years old. He has a long scooper for fishing golf balls out of ponds on golf courses. He goes out after all the golfers have left the course, but before it’s dark. Or maybe in the early morning hours. He’s barefoot and in shorts. There are bugs in those ponds — mosquitoes, maybe muskrats and ducks. He retrieves lost golf balls, finders-keepers. Some of those balls are old, sliced, damaged, worthless. But some are almost new $2.50 to $4 golf balls. A few only hit once. Who wouldn’t pay 25¢ for one of those $2.50 to $4 beauties?

This kid is a businessman. He knows how to hustle and how to make money. He cleans the balls and he probably sells them near the golf course, or just across the fence from one of the greens. Golfers may find themselves buying back the very balls they’ve hit into the pond. Some even have golfer’s names imprinted on the ball. Should a guy have to pay even a quarter to get his own ball? Of course — you can call it a finder’s fee instead of a purchase price if you prefer, but the kid should get his two bits.

This boy is a classic entrepreneur. He will grow up finding more and more ways to make a buck. He reminds me of a boy named Warren I’ve read about who grew up in Omaha. As a small boy, Warren went door to door selling chewing gum and Coke. When he got into his teens, he had a paper route, but in addition to papers, he detailed cars and he sold stamps and golf balls. He filed his first tax return at the age of 14 and deducted $35 for the use of his bike and watch on his paper route. When he was in high school, he and a pal invested $25 in a used pinball machine they placed in a local barber shop. Within months, they had multiple machines in different barber shops.

Warren grew up to be known as the “Oracle of Omaha.” His full name is Warren Buffett and in 2008 he was the richest man in the world. Today, he’s worth $53.9 billion and is in the top handful of the world’s wealthiest. But the best thing about Warren Buffett is that he is a philanthropist. He has pledged to give 99 percent of his wealth to causes like the fight against world poverty, children’s diseases, vaccine programs and the eradication of tropical diseases. He has already paid billions into the Gates Foundation, active worldwide.

We hope the kid selling golf balls has success and that he has the same humanitarian heart as Warren Buffett.

It’s hard to resist kids trying to make money. It’s fun to stop at a lemonade stand and do business by first asking if they have root beer. These kids usually get better tips than waitresses.

My favorite junior money maker was our granddaughter Tessa. For about four years, from age 12 to 16, she held a bake sale each summer in her yard with all proceeds going to a foundation fighting the Cornelia DeLang Syndrome which her older brother has. The first year, the profit was $300-$400. By the fourth year, it was over $2000. It got bigger and bigger. Friends, mothers, grandmothers and neighbors baked for the sale. Then friends, mothers, grandmothers and neighbors came and bought the goodies. Tessa had the heart of Warren Buffett alright, but none of his interest in making money. She’s older now and still has the heart, but she’s headed in a different direction, a good direction.

I’d love to meet the kid selling golf balls, but he’s in a different area code and I probably never will. If you meet him, wish him well and buy at least one golf ball even if you don’t golf. And tell him about Warren Buffett and what he does with his 99 percent.