November 22, 2016 | By Chuck Carlson
For Dana Lee, '02, it really was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
"I needed to do some new things," said Lee, who in 2013 learned from some friends where she was living in Atlanta that they were making a film about the origins of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
"They said, 'We really want to get this off the ground and we need a writer,'" said Lee, who also acted as producer. "I'd never done this and I'd never been a professional writer. I told them I didn't know if I'd be any good. But it was one of those times in my life when you raise your hand and say, 'I'll try to help.'"
Three years later, the results are there for all to see.
The Founders is a documentary about the 13 women who formed the LPGA in 1950 and is making the rounds of the film-festival circuit. It was the Audience Award Feature winner at this year's Atlanta Film Festival and was also shown at the Bentonville Film Festival in Arkansas (hosted by actress Geena Davis).
Indeed, it has become something of a film-festival darling. In June The Founders was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in Scotland, and earlier this month it appeared in Wilmington, N.C., and in three festivals around New York state.
"We're really getting the word out," Lee said.
There are also tentative plans to show the film at the Bohm Theatre, though it appears the soonest that would occur would be next spring, said Nancy Doyal, the Bohm's executive director.
Still, it would be a wonderful opportunity and a homecoming for Lee, a Wixom native who graduated from Albion College with degrees in English and French and then earned a master's in education from Harvard University.
In fact, education continues to be what Lee enjoys, as a teacher in Atlanta for Teach for America, a program which brings teachers to low-income communities around the nation.
"I didn't have an employment plan at all [after graduation]," Lee said. "That's when Teach for America kind of surfaced. I thought it was a good way to buy some time while I figured out what I was going to do with my adult life. I moved to Georgia thinking I'd do it for two years. Those two years turned into 10."
She taught middle school for five years in the Atlanta Public Schools, took time off to get her master's degree, then returned to the city to teach high school for five more years.
Atlanta is now home for Lee, and it's where Founders director Charlie Fisk found her and suggested she help out with the documentary. A Kickstarter fundraising campaign in December 2013 got the project off the ground; from there it moved along slowly but surely.
"It was all a labor of love and I'm sitting there learning so much," Lee said. "One day I'm assistant director and one day a researcher. We never knew what we were going to do from one day to the next. I loved every minute of it."
One of her jobs was to interview several of the trailblazing women—including Marilynn Smith, Marlene Bauer Hagge, Shirley Spork and, her favorite, Louise Suggs.
"Louise was 100 percent black and white and by the book," Lee said. "She was a very striking personality."
The other founding members of the LPGA were Alice Bauer, Bettye Danoff, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias, Helen Hicks, Helen Detweiler, Opal Hill, Betty Jameson and Sally Sessions.
"They were such outliers for their time and each one was a feminist," Lee said. "They didn't see themselves as groundbreakers. It was just what they did day to day."
With a newfound appreciation for both golf and making films, Lee still has other goals, though education remains the central focus.
In September 2015 she took a position as global curriculum lead for McKinsey Social Initiative, a consulting company that works to solve youth unemployment around the world.
The focus is on five regions—the U.S., India, Spain, Mexico and Kenya. Lee has been to Kenya four times to implement training programs and help residents find jobs.
She's now working as head of academic development for her new start-up company, EdQwest, which seeks to develop and execute a parent-focused educational service that pairs educators with parents.
"Our flagship project is coaching," Lee said. "If my third-grade daughter hates reading, then we have expert educators who can teach parents how to do the plan using available technology. We're teaching educators to teach parents how to be a driving force in changing their child's life."
As for The Founders and its future, the film has a distributor, London-based Kaleidoscope Films, and there is talk of showing it on the Golf Channel and, perhaps eventually, on one of the ubiquitous online movie providers.
"It's a documentary with a lot of appeal," Lee said. "It's not just a sports film. It's not just a women's sports film. It's not just a history film. It's all of those things. We have very high hopes for it."