For decades, Guido Ianni lit up people’s lives as he sold classic golf equipment on the putting green at Firestone Country Club. Players like Paul Azinger, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson found success with a club from Ianni; Mickelson even had one copied to fit a left-hander.

Born in Calabria, Italy and a resident of Canton and Louisville, Ianni not only served as a golf ambassador, but was a matchmaker, famously setting up Stuart Appleby with his second wife Ashley Saleet after the 2000 NEC Invitational. Here’s a look back at the larger-than-life character that was Ianni, who passed away Saturday at age 86.

Originally published May 4, 2003

A MATCH MADE IN AKRON: FOR APPLEBY, CANTON'S SALEET PUTS THE SWEET BACK IN HIS HEART

By Marla Ridenour

Beacon Journal staff writer

Their first date was filled with tears, which in almost any other instance might not have led to a second.

But the emotions Stuart Appleby and Ashley Saleet shared that Sunday night after the 2000 NEC Invitational might have immediately cemented their bond.

Appleby, an Australian-born PGA Tour player, poured out the story of his wife Renay's tragic death, crushed between two cars at a London train station after the 1998 British Open. Saleet, in her senior year at Mount Union, told him of the loss of several of her friends from Canton McKinley High, including one shot in a racial incident in Perry Township.

"We both cried," she remembered. "He was very sad about what we'd been through, what we were going through. You miss someone forever."

When NEC week began and family friend Guido Ianni set up Appleby and Saleet on a blind date Ianni had been pushing for years, she didn't even know who Appleby was. By the end of dinner at LeFever's River Grille in Cuyahoga Falls, Saleet was smitten. She took Appleby to Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens on Monday morning, then drove him in her 1998 Volkswagen Beetle to his plane.

"I remember seeing him fly away and I was so crushed," she said.

Saleet thought she would never see Appleby again. She couldn't have been more wrong. Appleby, 32, and Saleet, 24, were married Dec. 10 on a private island in Noosa, Australia.

Meeting Saleet helped Appleby's wounded heart start to mend. He had to be impressed by her beauty and intelligence. She graduated from Mount Union in three years with a degree in communications and women's studies. When she was 14, she had offers to model in Paris and with the Elite agency in Miami.

The couple kept in touch by phone and e-mail. Two months after the NEC, Appleby invited Saleet to the Invensys Classic in Las Vegas. In January, she came to Maui, Hawaii, for the Mercedes Championships.

For the first six months, Appleby took things slowly. He still was haunted by his wife's death and the feelings of unfairness. His fellow tour pros were hesitant to ask how he was holding up for fear of getting too personal.

In Saleet, he found solace. Her grandparents owned a funeral home in Rocky River, and death was often discussed at the dinner table.

"I was slightly wary of getting into a relationship a bit more in-depth early on," Appleby said last month at the Masters. "As time grew and Ashley's faith and undying attention and love towards us as a relationship, her being patient with me was something I began seeing more and more and was pretty much hard to resist."

Saleet didn't push. She knew about the emotions Appleby was dealing with.

"She was worried that he was going to hold on to that forever," said Ashley's mother, Marilyn Saleet. "Some people shut down and can't openly talk about death. She's been around grief her whole life and could relate more to what Stuart has been through."

Appleby finally felt there was nothing wrong with getting married again and asked Saleet to marry him in September. But the wedding ceremony was just a family affair attended by their parents, her two sisters and his sister. After the ceremony, the Vera Wang-clad bride and groom took a 30-minute gondola ride around the ocean and intercoastal. The reception had just seven guests.

"The wedding was a real fun day, everybody had a ball," Appleby said. "I thought it was exactly what we both deserved."

Now the couple spend about 32 weeks a year on the road, 10 weeks at their home in the Isleworth development in Orlando, Fla., and 10 weeks at his parents' dairy farm in Australia. Ranked No. 35 in the latest World Golf Rankings, Appleby is expected to qualify for the NEC Invitational Aug. 21-24 at Firestone Country Club. He will also spend time with the Saleet family when he's in Dublin, Ohio, from May 29 to June 1 for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Appleby has a soft spot in his heart for the NEC. If not for the rude interference of tragedy in Appleby's life, meeting Saleet might be considered the stuff of fairy tales.

The matchmaker was Ianni, a North Canton retiree who traveled on the PGA Tour for 20 years selling golf equipment. His wife, Janet, worked with Marilyn Saleet for 10 years at Aultman Hospital in Canton, and the couples remain close friends.

"He tried for two years to introduce Ashley to Stuart, but Ashley always had a boyfriend," Marilyn Saleet said. "She'd say, 'No, Guido, I'm happy.' One year we were all at a wedding, Ashley was there with her boyfriend, and he tried to get her to go to the NEC. He'd say, 'I want you to meet Stuart Appleby,' and she'd say, 'Who's Stuart Appleby?' "

Ashley admitted she knew nothing about golf at the time.

"I took golf lessons when I was 10 and hated it," she said. "I thought he worked in a pro shop or was a rep for adidas."

In 2000, Saleet had broken up with a boyfriend and gave in to Ianni's prodding. Ianni got her a ticket for the Wednesday NEC practice round and met her at the gate.

"These two people looked like they were meant for each other," Ianni said. "He was tall and handsome and one of the top players in the world. As gorgeous as she is, I thought they'd make a good couple. I had known him for four or five years, knew what he went through. I thought maybe he needed some patience, maybe a date or two. I didn't know what to expect."

The way Ianni tells it, it wasn't love at first sight.

Ianni and Saleet met Appleby and his caddie, Joe Damiano, outside the caddie building behind the practice range, and Ianni made the introductions.

"Stuart said, 'Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you,' and that's all it was," Ianni recalled. "Then he said, 'Joe, let's go practice.' Ashley looked at me like, 'Is that it?' "

When Appleby and Damiano went out for the practice round, Ianni and Saleet followed them around. When they returned to the clubhouse, Ianni conveniently left the two alone. Appleby asked Saleet for her phone number. The romance was on.

"Everyone needs to have someone named Guido," Ashley said. "We get him chocolates every year for Valentine's Day. We call him our little Cupid."

Saleet attended the NEC over that weekend and talked to Appleby several times on the phone before their dinner date. It was pouring down that night, outside the restaurant and inside.

"I remember everything about that night," she said. "I went home saying that's the most special person I've ever met. I can see us together.

"All my girlfriends were saying, 'You're not touching the ground.' I was floating on cloud nine forever."

Saleet still had reservations about seeing Appleby again when he invited her to Las Vegas. She was 21 years old and had never been on an airplane. Michael and Marilyn Saleet had taken their three daughters on plenty of trips, but always by car.

"I was scared out of my mind," Saleet said. "I cried the night before. I was going alone, flying from Akron-Canton to Dulles to Las Vegas. Leaving Dulles, the girls sitting next to me couldn't speak English. We traded gum back and forth. I had to do something to talk to someone."

Now she is such a world traveler that she can't wait until November, when Appleby is expected to play for the International Presidents Cup team against the U.S. team in South Africa.

Marilyn Saleet marvels that the two have have so much in common.

"They have the same values, the same backgrounds, and it's amazing being raised on different sides of the earth," Marilyn Saleet said. "She got a sweetheart of a golfer. He sits around like one of the kids, with a funny accent.

"They're blessed for each other. She has a wonderful life. We know she's well taken care of and he's well taken care of, too."

Ashley Appleby doesn't avoid talking about Renay. She's met Renay's parents. She can handle the fact that a woman she's only seen pictures of and heard stories about will be a part of their lives forever.

"I don't know how much you believe in the afterlife, but I feel in my whole heart Renay picked me for him," Ashley said. "He had a good marriage. We think we've done it again."