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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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1904 match
Boxing program. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

BOXING. Paying four dollars, eager spectators in 1868 took the ferry to Dunleith (East Dubuque, Illinois) and then the train to Menominee. The area's first boxing match--a bare-fisted, illegal contest--was fought outside by Johnny Bernard, age 22 at 147 pounds and Peter Toohey, age 20 weighing 134 pounds. As described in the December 1868 issue of the Dubuque Herald, the fighters took "rattlers" to the jaw, "roasters" to the face, and drew "claret." Bernard eventually won the bout on a foul.

Amateur bouts were popular. Photo courtesy: Paul Lembke
In 1871, Dubuque promoters hosted their first bout between Mike O'Connor and Danny Carr, both local men. The bruising slug-fest lasted an incredible fifty-seven rounds. A round, in those days, ended when a participant was knocked down or put his knee to the ground. John L. Sullivan, the only boxer who visited Dubuque while he was champion, gave a three-round exhibition in 1883.

C.Y.O. boxing matches brought many fighters to public attention. General admission seats cost twenty-five cents with reserved seating costing forty cents. Children were admitted for fifteen cents. A typical evening of sixteen bouts--each three rounds--began with the first bell at 8:00 p.m.

WORLD WAR I brought many changes to boxing. For over 200 years, boxing had followed the Queensbury rules. This was not aggressive enough for the military which put an emphasis on aggressiveness. Army rules provided for two judges on either side of the ring and a referee in the ring. At the end of three rounds, each two minutes in length, the judges declared the winner. If they did not agree, the referee decided. Points were awarded for direct clean hits with the knuckle-side of the glove of either hand on the front or sides of the head or body above the belt. If the two contestants tied on the number of points, the winner was decided by the fighter who displayed the better style. (1)

Arch WARD, the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, originated the Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament. The program was designed to help youth and promote amateur competition. The only material reward was a small golden glove, symbol of amateur championship, awarded to the winner of each weight division. The first Golden Gloves tournament was held in 1923.

In 1934 the Golden Gloves Tournament sponsored locally by the YMCA on February 8, 9, and 10th generated a great deal of excitement. Promoters suggested at least sixteen Dubuque boys alone intended on signing up. Boxers from within a radius of 100 miles or better could enter. The finalists represented Dubuque at the annual Chicago Tribune tournament held later in February. Winners locally were awarded golden gloves, while runners-up received bronze gloves. The YMCA announced it would house all the boxers as long as they were still in the running during the three day event. (2)

Milt AARONSON fought his first fight in Dubuque since turning pro on June 9, 1936 at MELODY MILL. The same night was the first time Dubuque fans witnessed Ken FENELON as a wrestler although he had been in the business over a year. (3)

In 1936 the Cedar Rapids Golden Gloves was started. Young men sponsored by the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.), American Legion, C.Y.O.,DUBUQUE BOYS' CLUB, and private business trained in several facilities throughout the Dubuque area. Names like Clement KELLY, Marv CLENDEN, Roger WELTY, Mark BURDS, and Bobby SLATTERY began appearing on sanctioned boxing cards and in newspapers throughout the United States.

Milt Aaronson's manager, Benny Ray, who also promoted boxing at Marigold Gardens in Chicago stated in 1937 that he intended to promote boxing in Dubuque. His plans called for a weekly or semi-monthly show at Melody Mill starting in July. (4)

The Catholic Youth Organization (C.Y.O.) Tournament of Champions in 1937 was attended by an estimated 5,000 fans. The Rev. Mathias M. HOFFMANN, Sr., founder of the local C.Y.O., crowned Jerry Roth the heavyweight champion and presented nine other boys with their title trophies. (5) In 1938 the C.Y.O. team took on Chicago's C.Y.O. champions at the Dubuque ball park as the Chicago boxers were preparing for their international matches. (6)

High school boxing was considered likely to be banned by the Iowa High School Athletic Association in 1946. The action was taken a month after a high school boxer was killed in a match between two schools in western Iowa. LORAS ACADEMY, one of the few major high schools in the state with an interscholastic boxing team, offered boxing as a major sport for three years. Rather than eliminate the sport, the Loras coach supported changing the rules to ensure no further fatal accidents. (7)

In 1947 Golden Gloves boxing returned to Dubuque. The first matches since 1934 were held on February 6th and 7th in the gymnasium of the Y.M.C.A. with more than thirty boxers entered. Co-promoting the fights were Harry Hutt and Ken FENELON who promised at least ten bouts of three rounds each night. Fighters from Prairie du Chien, Platteville, Shullsburg, Cascade, Cedar Rapids and Bellevue were among those fighting to represent Dubuque in the state tournament to be held in Cedar Rapids. Local fighters included Roger Welty, UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE welterweight; Ray "Chief" Meyer who fought in the 160-pound class; and Don Dupont from LORAS ACADEMY who was undefeated in three years of boxing in the 112-pound class. (8)

In Dubuque, the 40 and 8 group of the American Legion began sponsoring a Dubuque boxing program in 1955. The training was carried out on the second floor of the American Legion building at the corner of Fourth and Locust, the later site of the SHOT TOWER INN (THE).

The American Legion ended its boxing program in 1963. Frankie Farrell, a former boxer, took over the program in a number of locations including an upstairs location across the street from the ORPHEUM, a club on Pinard Street, and the old Y.M.C.A. building on Eighth and Iowa. Farrell continued the program until his death.

John GLYNN and Mark BURDS have been credited with reviving the sport in Dubuque around 1969 with training at the new Y.M.C.A./Y.W.C.A. From 1970 through around 1974, an estimated 80-85 boys participated in the program. The team won 15 state championships and the junior team won the Junior Olympic trophy in April, 1974. The same year four team members entered the all-Iowa Golden Gloves Tournament and all four won titles. (9) From 1975 until 1978, Marv Clenden ran a boxing club in a building he had constructed for the purpose. The DUBUQUE BOYS' CLUB began a program in 1974. The original instructors and coaches included Mark Burds, Ralph Bolsinger, and Marv Clenden. Amateur boxing faded during the 1970s when longtime coaches retired and no one replaced them.

In 1991 the city council passed an ordinance banning elimination-boxing competitions in the city. The ordinance followed a severe head injury to Dan Vondran, a boxer, who was then 29 years old. (10)

Recent boxing history in Dubuque included Scott LINDECKER, Tom RUSK, and Pat Swan, the only professional boxer in Dubuque in 1997 with a record of fifteen wins and only three losses. Pete Henkels, Dave Hess, and Fran Bechen were the only active state boxing officials from Dubuque. Henkels worked as a judge for amateur boxing matches; Hess was a supervisor of the Iowa Boxing Association and was an active judge in the NABF, USBA, WBO, and the IBC.

In 1999 Julius Pruitt, a native of Freeport, Illinois and a boxing fan moved to Dubuque. After about six months of participating in training and a 3-1 record in the ring, he was looking for a club in Dubuque but found none. He eventually set up his own gym and by 2000 had earned his Iowa amateur boxing license. He then let officials with the Iowa Amateur Boxing Association know that he was available for a match. (11)

Pruitt's experience was not unique. Amateur boxers seldom knew who they would fight until the day of the weigh-in. Few clubs were year-round because the boys participated in other sports bringing the season to an end in April with the Golden Gloves match. Kenny Buffington, president of the Iowa Amateur Association, suggested at the time that anyone thinking of beginning a boxing club should get incorporated so that they could get funding for non-profit organization. Amateur boxing, he felt, was well-organized and operated. Coaches had to receive a six-to-eight hour course and officials watched to see that matches did not involve mismatched competitors. Amateur boxing was about scoring points not knocking out the other competitor. In 2000 boxing clubs existed in Cedar Rapids, Marshalltown, Des Moines and Davenport. (12)

On June 18, 2001 the Dubuque City Council revoked the 1991 ordinance banning elimination-boxing to allow competitions known as 'Toughman Contests.' The council action allowed Adoreable Promotions, Inc, to rent FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER for a televised Toughman Contest in the fall. (13) Pete Henkels of Cash Promotions, promoted bouts on April 11 and September 26, 1997 at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds. Attendance at the first was limited by a snowstorm and the second was unfortunately scheduled for the same night as the Hempstead-Wahlert High School football game. A third attempt to set up matches was postponed. (14)

Amateur boxing returned to Dubuque in 2006 when Pete Henkels and Fran Bechen, both of whom officiated as many as fifteen amateur fights annually, brought the Second First Annual Dubuque Amateur Boxing Show to the Dubuque County Fairgrounds. (15) The program's unique name was the consequence of the program which been planned for the previous year being canceled because of a snowstorm. According to the amateur rules, boxers until the age of 17 had to face opponents who fell within twenty-four months of their age. Both contestants had to weigh within eight pounds of each other in the 125-pound class, 10 pounds in the 165-pound class, and 15 pounds in the 201-pound class. Bouts lasted three rounds and rounds lasted between one and two minutes based on the boxers' experience. Coaches had to approve of the fight. With boxing clubs through the Tri-State area participating, as many as ninety fighters were expected. (16)

The event was popular with nearly five hundred spectators. The fighters represented eight clubs based in Iowa and Wisconsin. Three clubs did not attend because of weather and a fourth did not have the proper credentials for their fighters. During the intermission, two dozen boxers from Dubuque's past were introduced. These included Mark Burds who coached teams from 1961-1984. He was presented a plaque for his dedication to the sport. (17) Amateur boxing included competitors ranging in age from 8 to 35. Matched by ability in a dozen weight classes, the fighters had to wear head gear and gloves of a size to improve safety. (18)

'Old time boxer Fran Bechen with Dream Center boxer Dakota Carner--keeping a tradition alive.' Photo and caption courtesy: Richard Vorwald. Picture taken at the 'Ringside Tournament.'
Photo of Dakota outside the Veteran's Memorial in Cedar Rapids. Dakota won a good match with an elite boxer from the 'Circle of Discipline' in Minneapolis, an organization with goals similar to those of the 'Dream Center'. It occurred on the 75th Anniversary of the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima. Coach Rob is a former Marine who served in the Middle East, and Coach Rich boxed at the Vet's Memorial in 1962 when he was 17. I like the quote - it asks that we serve our country in any way we can - "Our finest tribute to their valor will be the quality of our own lives". Coach Rich. Photo courtesy; Richard "Dick' Vorwald
In 2015 a pilot boxing program was moved from the Dubuque Community Y to the DUBUQUE DREAM CENTER. Richard Vorwald and Pete Eischeid with the assistance of such figures as Fran BECHEN hoped to use the boxing program to develop discipline and a good work ethic in those participating. (19)



1. "Boom in Boxing Follows the War," Telegraph-Herald, September 11, 1919, p. 2

2. "Amateur Boxers Taking Big Interest in Coming Golden Gloves Show at Y.M.C.A.," Telegraph-Herald, January 28, 1934, p. 15

3. "Fights Tonight at Melody Mill," Telegraph-Herald, June 9, 1936, p. 10

4. Kwasky, Albert,"Sport Dust Caught in the Wind," Telegraph-Herald, June 14, 1937, p. 6

5. "Eight New Champs Reign Over CYO Ranks; 5,000 Fans See Finals," Telegraph-Herald, April 23, 1937, p. 21

6. Liska, Ed, "Second Guessing," Telegraph-Herald, July 25, 1946, p. 13

7. Lagerstrom, Hal, "YMCA Boxing Team Brings Sport Back," Telegraph-Herald, June 16, 1974, p. 14

8. "Matches Held at YMCA Gym," Telegraph-Herald, February 6, 1947, p. 13

9. Lagerstrom

10. Coyle, Erin, "Mother Decries 'Toughman' Reinstatement," Telegraph Herald, June 22, 2001, p. 1

11. Piper, Andy, "A Solitary Struggle," Telegraph-Herald, November 5, 2000, p. 37

12. Ibid. p. 8C

13. Coyle

14. Leitner, Jim, Promoters Postpone Pro Card," Telegraph Herald, October 28, 1997, p. 7

15. Leitner, Jim, "Boxing Show Packs Big Wallop with Local Enthusiasts," Telegraph Herald, January 22, 2006, p. 1B

16. Leitner, Jim, "Amateur Boxing Makes Return to Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, January 21, 2006, p. 1B

17. Leitner, "Boxing Show Packs..."

18. Leitner, Jim," Local Duo Bringing Amateur Boxing Back to Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, January 16, 2005, p. 34

19. Piper, Andy, "Boxing Gets a Bounce," Telegraph Herald, April 16, 2015, p. 9