Boxing


MNBHOF Inaugural banquet a big success and a good example of why boxing gets in your blood

By Paul Strauss: It wouldn't have mattered where you were from, or even if you had lost your way and accidently ended upstairs in the banquet room at JAX Restaurant in NE Minneapolis on Oct 16th, 2010. In fact, even if you weren't a boxing fan, you would have been grateful for your mistake, and you would have started to feel a bit of involuntary tingle in your body. It was that kind of night. The packed room was full of (I hate to say it) Minnesota nice, because the newly formed MNBHOF Board of Directors, along with a host of others, put their heart and soul into making the night a memorable one.

Sure there were some inductees whose names wouldn't be readily recognizable outside of MN, but that's not important, because after listening to tales of their colorful careers, and watching highlight videos and slides of their best days, you couldn't help but be impressed. Then, when the hyperbole and slight shading of history moved aside, the reasons for the greatness of these men revealed themselves through touching stories of sacrifice, generosity, bravery, and humanity. Behind them you could always find evidence of the same qualities in supportive spouses and family members.

For example, there's the story about a then fifty-five year old Scott Ledoux agreeing to help raise money for a baseball field in a small town. His part involved agreeing to box with anyone willing to contribute to the cause. He boxed 26 rounds that hot summer day! Scott couldn't say no to anyone who needed help raising money for a good cause. His generousity was and is endless. He never forgot his own tough times, and once jokingly said, "My credit was so bad I had to get a cosigner to pay cash." He learned how to be a caregiver when his first wife struggled and then lost her battle with cancer. Now he is battling ALS, but continues to serve. As he says, he just keeps punching and still works as a County Commissioner and Executive Director of the State Athletic Commission.

How about the great Mike Gibbons. Boxing fans know him as one of the best scientific boxers of all time. Gene Tunney realized while watching Mike whip Jack "The Giant Killer" Dillon that he could beat the great Jack Dempsey by incorporating Mike's style into his own technique. Mike was known as "The Phantom" and the "Uncrowned Champion", but what many people didn't know about him was his tremendous generosity. He lost much of the fortune he struggled to make in the ring by helping others keep a roof over their heads during the Great Depression. What started as investment on his part involving rental property, became an overwhelming effort to help others. Not only did he allow tenants down on their luck to stay rent free in his buildings, he even helped pay their utilities. His eagerness to help others almost cost him his own house.

HIs brother Tommy, who also was a great fighter, felt the need to serve by helping to clean up crime in St. Paul. About the time he retired, St. Paul and Minneapolis seemed to have an unwritten agreement with some of the era's most famous criminals. The story goes that some in power at the time would look the other way as long as the criminals didn't commit any crimes locally. Well, history suggests that that changed when Ma Barker's gang (Alvin Karpis) robbed the Third Northwestern National Bank, killing two policemen and a civilian. The Barker-Karpis gang also was involved in the kidnapping of William Hamm of the Hamm's Bewery family. Well, the proverbial "all hell broke loose", and the public wanted action. Tommy's family and friends convinced Tommy to run for Ramsey County Sheriff, which took in St. Paul. Tommy was elected and held the office for six terms. He worked closely with the FBI. In addition, he did so much to help others that he was twice knighted by the Catholic Church.

During the course of the night you would have heard about people like Bill Kaehn, who sacrificed so much of his time and talent over the years to teach the sport of boxing to young hopefuls. Certainly he was motivated by his love for the sport, but one after another of his proteges would talk more about the man and the valuable impression he made upon their lives. To a person, they know deep inside that he cares about them not just as fighters, but as friends He has that special ability to make someone believe he/she is his best friend, and they are! In his case, you could even say his love for the sport indirectly was responsible for his wife Lorraine to become an accomplished artist. She is a fighter too, so when Bill had to spend so many hours at the gym, this delicate woman wasn't about to waste her time, so she took up and mastered painting.

For former world champion Will "Steel" Grigby, it was the greatest night ever. In his acceptance speech, the diminutive ex-fighter did a great job letting the audience know he was accepting the award on behalf of many others, who exerted a positive influence on his life over the years. As he spoke, those in attendance watched film of his second professional fight. It just happened to be against the future great Michael Carbajal. How could any two fighters already be that good in only their second and first fight, respecively? There could be no question in anyone's mind that they were looking at greatness. "Steel" Will proved to have a soft side, and was truly humble and appreciative in accepting his award.

Rafael Rodriquez was beaming all night long. The "Rifle" looked a bit like the politician working a room for votes, but Rafael didn't need any votes. They had already been cast. He was being recognized as one of MN's best. How could anyone be cosidered any tougher than this guy who fought less than a month after being shot! This banquet night he wasn't circling the room to garner votes. No, he simply wanted to share his enthusiasm and appreciation for the recognition being bestowed upon him. He came from a fighting family, and a goodly number of them were in attendance, including a nephew who let the crowd know he looked just like his uncle, and he was proud of it.

Another fighting family recognized was the Flanagans. Jerry offered insight about his relationships with his brothers Glen and Del. The two famous brothers fought anybody and everybody. One of Glen's fights even spilled out of the ring. During the fourth round of his fight with Norman Mastrian, both men ended up outside the ring. They kept battling. By the time the contest was over, Glen had dropped Mastrian eleven times.

The night also brought home the point that we're in this life together, helping, sharing experiences, and

caring for one another, and no where else is that more evident than in the boxing community. It's like a virus. It's catagious. If you asked one person in the crowded room about someone, it would automatically bring up other names, because this guy's father coached that fighter, or this same fighter later helped the trainer's son or grandson. Bill Kaehn's experiences, for example, go back to teaming up with his father to help train Glen and Del Flanagan, and then all the way forward to Anthony "The Bullet" Bonsante. If Bill wasn't eighty-eight years old and battling spinal stenois, he undoubtedly would be teaching the science of boxing to Jeff Flanagan's son, who is Glen's grandson. Papa Joe Daskiewicz coached and trained many fighters, including Scott Ledoux and Rafael Rodriquez. Once again things are carried forward, as his two sons, Pete and Chuck, who were both in attendance, train several current fighters, and it goes on and on. Some would say it's like networking, a term used in business, but it's more than that. It's more like a type of camaraderie, a fellowship of spirit in the toughest sport there is in the world.

That's what happened this magical night at the MNBHOF's banquet, and it is a great example of why people never tire seeing and hearing about the never ending examples of sacrifice, suffering, courage, strength of character and love. That also explains why a distinguished young married man, and father of four, like MNBHOF President and boxing historian Jake Wegner is who he is. Don't forget his wife either, for none of his sacrifices would be possible without her support, encourage and sacrifices. He definitely has the bug. It has made him willing to work the long hours at his regular sales job, and then still be willing to put in countless hours involved with boxing, because it's his true avocation. There's definitely something special about the sport and the people involved. It gets in your blood!

Article posted on 14.10.2010



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