HONORS & AWARDS
Jim O'Hara's gift was friendship. His single greatest accomplishment, indeed honor, was the capacity to be a true-blue friend to so many people in so many walks of life.
His friends in the fight game called him Mr. Boxing and inducted him into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame in October 2014.
Hats off to the dedicated men and women who tirelessly operate the Hall of Fame. If you want to keep up on boxing history, read all the stories on the Hall’s website, www.mnbhof.org.
You also can order DVDs of induction banquets. You can sense that the spirits of so many greats, both inducted and yet to be inducted, are there adding to the kindnesses of the boxing community. You’ll see Minnesota Nice with a Jab … Jab … Boom.
During his six decades in the field of fisticuffs, Jim naturally received his share of awards. Far and away his greatest honor was to know and work alongside those in or who covered Minnesota boxing in whatever capacity. The names literally go from A to Z and then back again, and that would only be the beginning. From Joe Azzone to Dick Zasada, from Dave Bloomberg to Emmett Yenez, and so on.
Many were instrumental to Jim’s effectiveness. Richard H. Plunkett was Chairman of the Boxing Board when Jim was appointed in 1976. An accomplished lawyer and banker, Plunkett taught Jim (who hadn’t gone beyond the eighth grade) how to run a board meeting fairly but efficiently as well as how to keep Minutes in terms of what’s important and what’s not important.
The other Boxing Commissioners Jim had the honor of working with over his 25 years as Executive Secretary of the Boxing Board include:
Fred Allen, Joe Azzone, Howard Bennett, Dave Bloomberg, Nick Castillo, Jerry Coughlin, Erwin Dauphin, Danny Davis, Harry Davis, Robert Dolan, Gary Erikson, Donny Evans, James Farelli, Pete Filippi, Patrick Foslien, Val Goodman, Wally Holm, Gary Holmgren, Arthur Holstein, John Kelly, Judy Klammer, Stan Kowalski, Scott LeDoux, Vern Landreville, Robert Mack, JoAnn McCauley, Tom Mosby, Robert Powers, George Reiter, Richard Schaak, Billy Schmidt, Les Sellnow, Robert Thompson, James Trembley, Clem Tucker, and Dan Wall.
Any omission is this writer’s mistake.
Jim also had the honor of working with assistant attorneys general of the State of Minnesota who provided invaluable legal counsel, including Peder Hong, Esq.
You know Jim loved swapping tales with the commissioners. One was Les Sellnow who served on the Boxing Board in the early 1980s. A journalist, he naturally had an eye and ear for the story.
In 2013 Sellnow completed a book about the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves. A treasure, this work captures the essence of the Golden Gloves that Jim loved so much. Physical fitness and discipline. Selfless volunteerism and teamwork. Sportsmanship. Humility. Young people discovering their athleticism and heart. Athletes facing their fear and becoming adults and changing the trajectory of their lives. Lessons learned from underestimation. Jim could attest to these things in the Golden Gloves.
In his book Sellnow describes his first encounter with a young man named Francis Bellanger:
On a personal note, I remember seeing Francis for the first time [in the 1960s] on a boxing card in Wadena. Ken Hegarty, Wadena’s coach and promoter had staged a card that featured visiting fighters from the Iron Range and asked me to be one of the judges. *** Prior to the bouts, I walked through the staging area for boxers, which was in the wrestling room at Wadena High School. Wrestling mats were rolled up against the wall on one end. Perched on top of one of the rolls was a scrawny Native American boy wearing thick-lensed glasses that gave him an owlish look.
I made inquiry of Hegarty as to the lad’s identify. He said that was Francis Bellanger and that he was matched against a young man from the Range who was older and had a background of Upper Midwest experience. I was aghast. I told Hegarty I couldn’t believe that he would match that little kid, no more than 16, against an older, experienced fighter. I was so indignant that I threatened to refuse to judge any of the bouts. Hegarty asked me if I had ever seen the kid fight. I said I had not. Hegarty said he had and the young Francis would take care of himself, thank you very much.
I decided to trust him and took my seat at the judge’s table. When Francis’ bout rolled around, he and Oscar [his coach] climbed into the ring. Francis was wearing a white terrycloth robe that was well-worn. Oscar reached up and removed his glasses. I prepared for the worst. The kid stood there blinking, trying to get his eyes in focus. Then the bell rang. Francis reminded me of a wolf closing in on its prey. He was on his opponent in a flash and opened up with a two-fisted barrage that had the other fighter shaken in the first seconds. He never let up and in the second round, the referee took pity on the Iron Ranger and stopped the contest.
(Les Sellnow, They Came to Fight: The Story of Upper Midwest Golden Gloves, 60-61 (Bang Printing 2013).)
Like Less Sellnow, Jim was a volunteer for the Golden Gloves. If there was a tournament in St. Paul or Minneapolis involving a St. Paul Golden Glover, the odds are Jim was there. There’s no question he saw Bellanger in action. Bellanger was denied the verdict in 1967 when he faced St. Paul’s equally game Simon Maestras at the Minneapolis Auditorium, both earning a standing ovation. “It was the greatest Golden Gloves match I ever saw,” said referee Denny Nelson as reported in Sellnow’s book.
In 1966 Bellanger had become the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves bantamweight champion (118 lbs. max.), and if Maestras knocked him out of contention in 1967, he beat Maestras in 1968 to claim the featherweight crown (126 lbs. max.).
This chapter is about honors and awards. It’s true Jim received many awards but people were the honors. Jim credited others, like Francis Bellanger and Simon Maestras, two young men giving everything they got.
Jim had to pinch himself when he was elected to the same office that had long been held by educated bigwigs, including George Barton and Jack Gibbons. After Jim’s death his successors include boxing great Scott LeDoux. Jim was a fan of these guys.
As a featherweight (126 lbs. max.), George Barton decisioned Terrible Terry McGovern in a six-round battle in St. Paul in 1904. McGovern is ranked number 30, pound for pound, on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time. (Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing’s Greatest Fighters, 95 (The Lyons Press 2006).)
They say Barton still holds the world record for having refereed over 12,000 amateur and professional bouts. He was the third man in the 1925 bout in St. Paul between Gene Tunney and Harry Greb. See Round 2, entitled Dignity & Sportsmanship.
In 1942 Barton was appointed to the Minnesota State Athletic Commission, which then regulated boxing, and served on the commission for 27 years. He was the commission’s Executive Secretary until 1968 when Jack Gibbons succeeded him.
In 1952 Barton received the James J. Walker Award from the Boxing Writers’ Association of New York. Other recipients of that award include Gene Tunney (awarded to him in 1941), Jim Braddock (1954), Jack Dempsey (1957), Joe Louis (1967), Muhammad Ali (1984), Willie Pep (1994), Floyd Patterson (1995), and Angelo Dundee (1996).
A sports journalist for over 50 years, Barton published his autobiography in 1957, My Lifetime in Sports, which is in the Minnesota Historical Society book collection. It was just another day at the office for him to publish an article in The Ring magazine.
The son of the legendary Mike Gibbons, Jack Gibbons was a world-class boxer in his own right. His record is discussed in Round 6, entitled The Boxer. In 1956 Gibbons was appointed to the Minnesota State Athletic Commission and served for 19 years, including as Executive Secretary from 1968 to 1975.
Jack Gibbons is counted among the best athletes to come out of St. Paul’s Cretin High School, along with National Baseball Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, among others.
Everyone remembers Scott LeDoux as a heavyweight contender who earned a title fight with Larry Holmes. See Round 11, entitled Muhammad Ali. In 2009 LeDoux was inducted into the University of Minnesota – Duluth Hall of Fame for football. He lettered three years there, including 1968 when he was a starter on the line both ways.
Jim considered it an honor to be a boxer from Minnesota, particularly St. Paul. He knew that Minnesota produces some of the toughest guys and best boxers in the world.
On May 3, 1918 Jack Dempsey faced St. Paul native Billy Miske at the St. Paul Auditorium. Although he got the win, Dempsey said later that night: “If I ever have to fight another tough guy like that I don’t want the championship. The premium they ask is too much effort.” (Clay Moyle, Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt, 54 (Win By KO Publications 2011).) George Barton was the referee of this 10-round affair.
The records of some of St. Paul’s boxing legends, including Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Billy Miske, and Mike O’Dowd, are discussed in Round 6, entitled The Boxer.
Another world champion from St. Paul is Will Grigsby. Was Jim proud in 1998 when Steel Will brought home the International Boxing Federation title in the light-flyweight division (108 lbs. max.). Grigsby would become a three-time world title holder before retiring in 2007. His record? A compact 18-4-1, making his three world title wins all the more impressive.
In 1994 Jim saw greatness in Grigsby, comparing him to Willie Pep in a conversation with St. Paul’s world-class trainer Dennis Presley. “Dennis, he reminds me of Will-O’- the-Wisp,” said Jim. (2007 Saint Paul Almanac at 259 (Arcata Press 2007), which includes the writing of Mark Connor: World Champion.)
Pep is ranked number three, pound for pound, on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time, after only Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong. (Bert Randolph Sugar, supra, at 7.)
Then there’s Mike Evgen, St. Paul’s Rice Street Rocker. A Rice Streeter himself, Jim reserved a special place in his heart for Golden Glovers, win or lose. But lose was not in Evgen’s vocabulary. He’d won a fistful of Upper Midwest tourneys, 1983-1987. So no one was surprised in 1992 when he was crowned light-welterweight world champion (140 lbs. max.) by the International Boxing Organization. Indeed, the IBO came knocking on his door, choosing St. Paul for its inaugural title fight for this weight division. The 12-rounder was held in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on April 9, 1992. Evgen decisioned Louie Lomeli of Illinois, who had had only two losses in 34 pro fights.
Evgen retired in 1997 with a 31-6 professional record, including 13 wins by kayo, and a guaranteed ticket to his own chapter in Minnesota boxing history.
In the 1980s Brian Brunette, the Saintly City Slugger, had nearly achieved perfection. His only loss in 25 fights occurred in 1986 in Campania, Italy, where he challenged Patrizio Oliva for the world light-welterweight crown. With 18 of his 24 wins by knockout, Brunette retired after one more fight. In 1984 he successfully challenged fellow St. Paulite Gary Holmgren for his Minnesota light-middleweight title. If beyond his prime, Holmgren gave it all he had, losing the 10-rounder and handing over the title by majority decision. Holmgren, a St. Paul fireman, then retired officially, having earned a national championship in the Golden Gloves and a 22-5 professional record with 12 wins inside the distance.
St. Paul is such a boxing town that it’s fun to consider that its namesake, the Apostle Paul, was familiar with the fight game. In the First Letter of Paul to the Church at Corinth (chapter 9, verses 24-26), he wrote:
Run like that — to win. Every athlete concentrates completely on training, and this is to win a wreath that will wither, whereas ours will never wither. So that is how I run, not without a clear goal; and how I box, not wasting blows on air.
(The New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday Publications 1990.) If Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes, perhaps Paul with a good jab ought to be the patron saint of boxers. You just know George Foreman must have preached a sermon entitled Jabs for Jesus.
Growing up poor near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Jim knew LeRoy Neiman, who also was from the neighborhood. Neiman left Minnesota by way of the army, landing in Normandy on June 12, 1944 and helping free France. He later went to great heights as an artist, never forgetting St. Paul where, like Jim, he acquired his street smarts and devotion to boxing. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007. He appears in the films Rocky III (as an artist sketching Balboa and as the ring announcer) and Rocky IV (as the ring announcer). His artwork appears on the screen during the credits at the end ofRocky III.
Imagine walking the same streets as Mike Gibbons and seeing him regularly at the Mike Gibbons Rose Room Gym. Neiman in his 2012 autobiography provides a glimpse of the pride that St. Paul street kids, like himself and Jim, got from any encounter with Gibbons:
Gibbons came up rough and ruthless to become the Blarney king of Rice Street by provoking tough guys into making bloody-knuckled dopes of themselves. His gimmick was to stand on an open handkerchief against a brick wall and bet big bruisers they couldn’t knock off his derby hat. “Aw, c’mon, give it a shot, ya big jerk. I can’t even move me feet now, can I? Fifty cents says you’re not man enough!” And he’d just stand there without budging off the handkerchief and slip, duck, and dodge punches until his challenger’s fists were broken and bloodied from hitting the bricks. He was a hell of a guy, like a character out of an American tall tale — Mike Fink or Paul Bunyan to us kids — so when Mike Gibbons kicked you out of his gym for sparring in the ring or pounding the heavy bag without paying a locker fee, you’d boast to your friends about it.
(LeRoy Neiman, All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs, Chapter 1 (Lyons Press 2012), Kindle Edition.)
The Ring Encyclopedia lists Mike Gibbons at 5-foot-9 and 147 pounds. It records that upon retiring in 1922 Gibbons devoted himself full-time to boxing instruction, later becoming a Boxing Commissioner (as a member of the State Athletic Commission, predecessor to the Boxing Board). (The Ring Boxing Encyclopedia and Record Book at 56 (The Ring Book Shop 1979).)
Reflecting on Gibbons’ career, the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame says it straight: “Mike Gibbons, ‘The Saint Paul Phanton,’ is regarded by boxing historians as the greatest fighter ever to live from the state of Minnesota, and one of the greatest fighters of all time.” (Mike Gibbons “The St. Paul Phantom,” The Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame Inaugural Collector’s Issue 2010 Induction Banquet Program.)
Also imagine being able to visit on a regular basis with Mike O’Dowd, former middleweight champion of the world (1917-1920), including at the saloon that O’Dowd owned and operated from 1936 to 1955 on St. Peter Street in downtown St. Paul. O’Dowd was known as The Fighting Harp. (Clay Moyle, supra, at 18.)
O’Dowd may have told the saloon-keeper joke that Jim picked up somewhere along the line. There’s this saloon keeper who’s paying his bartender the going wage yet discovers the guy is pocketing half the receipts. What can you do? Soon the bartender begins pocketing nearly all the receipts. So the proprietor says to his bartender: “Aren’t we partners no more?”
It was no joke when International Boxing Hall of Famer Tommy Gibbons, Mike’s brother, was elected sheriff of Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul. George Barton wrote how Gibbons informed his buddies that there’s indeed a new sheriff in town:
Tavern owners, gamblers and the like, among them several former boxers, were elated when Tommy was elected to the sherif’f”s office in 1934. They had visions of running wild under his administration. Gibbons announced that he intended to enforce the law to the letter with fines, jail sentences and revocation of licenses for violators.
“It is up to you to respect the law or pay the penalty,” Tommy informed all and sundry. They quickly learned Tommy meant business after he arrested several tavern and pool-room operators for keeping open after hours and maintaining slot-machines in violation of the law.
Tommy chuckles when telling the story of a topnotch St. Paul pugilist who thought he was kidding when he ordered his former boxing pal to get rid of slot-machines in his tavern. Tommy had warned the boxer that unless he removed the slot-machines, he would raid the place with his deputies and seize and destroy the machines.
The boxer ignored the warning. True to his word, Gibbons and his deputies raided the tavern, confiscated the machines and smashed them into smithereens.
As Tommy was serving a subpoena on his one-time sparmate, the fellow growled:
“Well, Gibbie, what a fine s.o.b. you turned out to be.”
(George A. Barton, Tommy Gibbons, Part III, The Ring, December 1959, 18, 19.)
Neiman was a little rough on Tommy Gibbons, whom he describes thusly:
Tommy flunked the championship, but after he fought he became mayor or sheriff or something — parlayed boxing into a political career for himself. But Mike was the real thing, a dandy. He’d walk out, take out his training handkerchief, strut around.
(LeRoy Neiman, supra.)
Rather than flunking the championship, Tommy proved his character by going the full 15 rounds with Jack Dempsey on the Fourth of July 1923. Vince Lombardi taught his players that “character is the will in action.” (David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, Chapter 15 (Simon & Schuster 1999), Kindle Edition.) George Barton, who witnessed Dempsey vs. Gibbons, could attest to Tommy’s character:
Knowing the majority of spectators, among them several hundred gun-toting cowboys, were hostile toward Dempsey and [his manager] Kearns, I asked Tommy why he did not drop to his knees and claim the fight on a foul after Dempsey hit him low for the third time.
“Had you done so, Tommy,” I said, “Referee Dougherty undoubtedly would have been coerced by those cowboys into declaring you winner on a foul.”
Gibbons’ reply was typical of his character and sportsmanship.
“George,” said Tommy, “if I could not win the championship on my merits as a fighter, I would not want it.”
(George A. Barton, supra.)
Tommy Gibbons and others of his character helped form Jim.
You know St. Paul still produces some of the best referees in the world, like the father-son team Denny and Mark Nelson. Both are world class.
Of course boxing was everywhere in St. Paul when Jim was growing up. Take a look at Vic Tedesco’s autobiography, I Always Sang For My Father, an endearing window into history.
A longtime St. Paul City Councilman and businessman, Tedesco was born in St. Paul in 1922. From 1931 to 1936 he sold newspapers downtown and at some point joined the St. Paul Daily News boxing team. The main rival team was sponsored by the St. Paul Dispatch. Also during this period he and Jim became friends. At age 14, a veteran of five years as a newspaper boy, Tedesco moved on from newspapers and boxing. His record in the ring was five wins and seven losses. (Vic Tedesco and Trudi Hahn, I Always Sang For My Father (Or Anyone Who Would Listen), 21-23, 28, and 171 (Syren Book Company 2006).)
Discovered in Jim’s desk after his passing is a championship belt made out of pewter. The face is roughly three inches wide by two inches tall, inscribed in capital letters with the words DIAMOND CHAMPION BELT 1934 ST. PAUL. It features a boxing glove in the center, surrounded by a wreath. Two boxers, one on each side, book-end the wreath. There’s an eagle with outstretched wings at the top.
If Vic Tedesco was a member of a St. Paul boxing team as young as nine, it’s possible Jim was boxing at the same age. Jim turned nine in 1934. Another theory is that Jim’s older brother Mike, a big guy and over a year older, won the championship belt, which may have been given to Jim after Mike’s death. At 27 Mike died by the gun following a street fight, and Jim rarely spoke of that night. See Round 3, entitled The Unspeakable. He also never spoke of this championship belt. But he kept it safe. At the time of his passing in 2002 the belt, if a mystery, was 68-years old.
A past Vice President of the U.S. Boxing Association (USBA), Jim was honored by the International Boxing Federation/U.S. Boxing Association (IBF/USBA) for his work in boxing. This organization issued an Appreciation Award to him in 1998. He said this gesture came as a big surprise. He's attending the awards banquet as part of the annual IBF/USBA convention, and the speaker at the podium is giving the background on an unnamed man. Jim thinks to himself that he had had the same experiences. The next thing he knows he's on stage receiving a plaque inscribed with the words: “A Special Thanks from the IBF/USBA Executive Committee.”
Two decades earlier, in 1978, he received the Golden Gloves Achievement Award, the top award of the Upper Midwest organization. Bill Jaffa, then the First Vice President of the organization, wrote about Jim’s contribution after retiring from the ring in the 1950s:
He and his good friend, Joe Azzone, began judging amateur bouts in their spare time. In 1967 he joined the St. Paul Golden Gloves Association’s Board of Directors and spent countless hours keeping the fledgling St. Paul Golden Gloves Program alive. In 1971 he once again left the world of boxing to tend to the needs of his family and business. Upon his departure, the St. Paul program once again began experiencing setbacks. Finally, in 1973, at a restaurant, he ran into his old friend Joe Azzone. The topic of discussion? Why, boxing of course! It seems that Jim had heard the St. Paul program had almost ceased to exist and there may not even be a Tournament that year. Joe said, “Well, nobody bothers to even thank us for all the hard work and countless hours people like you and me put into the program.” Jim’s Irish blood boiled and he shouted, “I’m not looking for anything like that!” A few days later, O’Hara was back at it again … this time reorganizing the St. Paul Golden Gloves Program. ***
This year , St. Paul promises to be a leading contender for Upper-Midwest Golden Gloves team honors – thanks to men like Jim O’Hara.
(Bill Jaffa, Achievement Award goes to “Dedicated Boxing Man” – Jim O’Hara, Upper Midwest Golden Gloves Year Book,March 12, 1978.)
On April 20, 1976 the St. Paul Golden Gloves hosted its second annual boxing show dinner at the downtown St. Paul Radisson Hotel. The event was a sold-out fundraiser for amateur boxing. At the event Jim received a large boxing trophy inscribed with the words: “Mr. K.O. Jimmy O’Hara For His devotion and dedication to the Great Game of Amateur Boxing From His Admirers in the St. Paul Haymakers Club Radisson Hotel April 20, 1976.”
In the May 21, 1976 issue of St. Paul’s The Downtowner, Jim was awarded the “Fight Promoter Award.” The Downtowner said he “has done more than anyone to promote Golden Gloves boxing in St. Paul.”
Jim was honored to serve as President of the St. Paul Golden Gloves program, where his experience as a promoter was valued. He’s credited with putting on 18 amateur boxing shows in the 18 months before his 1976 election to the office of Executive Secretary of the Minnesota Boxing Board. Over the years, he received many awards from the St. Paul Golden Gloves.
On June 14, 1976, the City of St. Paul issued an award to Jim that includes the following words:
To Jim O’Hara: For His Unfailing Devotion to the Cause of Youth…. For His Irrepressible Optimism and Dedication to the Ancient Art of Pugilism…. For His Countless Contributions to Making This, Our Fair City of Saint Paul, a Better Place to Live.
In 1978 the City of St. Paul nominated him for the Fifth Annual Roberto Clemente Humanitarian Award of the City of Hialeah, Florida, which solicited nominations from throughout the United States. The solicitation stated that the award would be presented to “the individual who best exhibits the humanitarian qualities of the late baseball star who was killed while on a relief flight to Managua, Nicaragua, Hialeah’s Sister City which was devastated by an earthquake in December, 1972.”
Jim was later informed that he had been ranked as one of the finalists with United States Senator Hubert Humphrey, who had died in January 1978. Part of Jim’s humanitarian work was his efforts at Stillwater State Prison, where he supervised boxing events. (Article entitled Man of the Year, 6 (No. 2) The Grapevine, 1-2 (April 1978) (a newsletter of the State of Minnesota Department of Commerce).)
Decorated with many of his awards, Jim’s den included a Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame plaque which read in part: “Inducted: December, 1996. Established 1996 – Willie Carter.” This organization is not connected to the new, as of 2010, Hall of Fame into which Jim was inducted in 2014. (www.mnbhof.org.)
In 1985 Jim became a founder and the Chairman of the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame, in which he was inducted in 1986. A list of the boxing inductees appears near the end of this Round.
Jim was honored to know the sportswriters in town, including Don Riley, Jim Wells, and Charley Walters, who called regularly. From his contacts on the street, including his brothers Ed and Bobby who drove taxicabs and limousines for a living, Jim seemed always in the know about the goings on in St. Paul, particularly in the sports department. Take the whereabouts of the legendary Sandy Koufax on Yom Kippur in October 1965, the day Koufax refused to pitch the first game of the World Series, go to the ballpark, or even listen to the game on the radio.
The Dodgers were staying downtown at The Saint Paul Hotel, and there was speculation that Koufax attended the Temple of Aaron that morning. As it turns out Koufax never left his hotel room. Hall of Famer Don Drysdale started in his place, but the Twins had the Big D’s number. Behind seven runs to one, Dodger Manager Walter Alston walked to the mound, whereupon Drysdale said: “Hey, skip, bet you wish I was Jewish today, too.” (Jane Leavy, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Chapter 17 (HarperCollins e-books 2002), Kindle Edition.)
The Dodgers won the Series four games to three with Koufax taking MVP honors after throwing two shutouts, including game seven at the Twins’ ballpark on only two days’ rest.
If Jim couldn’t provide accurate intelligence on the whereabouts of Sandy Koufax, he could tell you firsthand accounts of Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle. Martin managed the Twins in 1969, and Mantle came to town to hang out with his best friend.
The truth is Jim felt privileged and humbled to have crossed paths with so many legends in sports, particularly boxing. In the 1980s Marvelous Marvin Hagler was kind enough to present him with boxing gloves, a pair of red Wear-Hards. Other boxing greats far and near with whom Jim crossed paths include Muhammad Ali, Jim Beattie, Duane Bobick, Brian Brunette, Danny Davis, Doug Demmings, John DeOtis, Mike Evgen, Del Flanagan, Glen Flanagan, George Foreman, Jack Gibbons, Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Jackie Graves, Will Grigsby, Larry Holmes, Don Jasper, Jake LaMotta, Scott LeDoux, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Louis, Joey Maxim, Ken Norton, Pat O’Connor, Mike O’Dowd, Willie Pep, Rafael Rodriguez, Lee Savold, Dan Schommer, Jerry Slavin, and Ray Temple who taught Jim how to box. He also had the honor of knowing the boxing greats listed below per the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame and many of those listed below per Murray McLean’s work Boxers of St. Paul. Many names are highlighted by Jim in his writing reproduced in Round 14, entitled The Storyteller.
For 1993, the Willie L. Carter Youth Foundation presented Jim with the Joe Louis Award.
Jim was honored posthumously in 2002 by the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame. His wife, Kitty, accepted a plaque which reads:
Lifetime Achievement Award presented to James J. O’Hara. In recognition of over 50 years promoting boxing in the great State of Minnesota. Including 25 years as Executive Secretary of the Minnesota State Boxing Board. Chairman of the Mancini’s Saint Paul Sports Hall of Fame Committee from its inception in 1985 until his death, January 2002.
In 2014 Jim was remembered by Les Sellnow. He included a chapter on Jim in his book on the Golden Gloves. Quoting Jim, Sellnow entitled the chapter: Jim O’Hara: “Half Irish and Half Smart.” (Les Sellnow, supra.) You can purchase this book from the Upper Midwest Golden Gloves.
As a continuing honor, Jim’s name is included among the greats in the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame. The sweet scientists inducted in the 1980s are Jack Gibbons, 1985; Jim O'Hara, 1986; Emmett Yenez, 1987; Joe Stepka, 1988; and Joe Azzone, 1989.
The fighters inducted in the first half of the 1990s are Bill Schmidt, 1990; Don Weller, 1991; Denny Nelson, 1992; Gene “Rock” White, 1993; Manuel Melendez, 1994; and Dick Delaney, 1995.
Practitioners of the art of self-defense inducted after 1995 and before 2001 are John Matthews, 1996; Bob Campion, 1997; Frank Cobb, 1998; Jay Pelzer, 1999; and Dick Zasada, 2000.
The pugilists inducted in the 21st century but before 2007 are Chuck Mitch, 2001; Tom Campion, 2002; Gary Holmgren, 2003; Del Bravo, 2004; Jim Beattie, 2005; and Joe Abbott, 2006.
Boxers inducted in 2006 through 2013 are Dale Jackson, 2007; Gary Struss, 2008; Mike Evgen, 2009; Nick Castillo, 2010; Phil “Skip” Skarda, 2011; Paul Dotty, 2012; and Marco Morelli, 2013.
A fighting man inducted in 2014 was none other than Brian Brunette.
Joe Frazier helped make Muhammad Ali. Guys like Scott LeDoux also helped make Ali. Lee Savold helped make Rocky Marciano, and guys like Jim helped make Savold.
Murray McLean, Jim’s manager, recorded the names of 106 men in St. Paul’s storied boxing history, including Lee Savold. An artist, McLean celebrated them in his work from the 1970s entitled Boxers of St. Paul. Here they are (in alphabetical order), men Jim’s honored to be among:
A. * Mickey Andert * Carl Augustine * Joe Azzone *
B. * Tommy Barrone * Jim Beattie * Earl Blue *
* Buzz Brown * Mel Brown *
C. * Jackie Cameron * Jimmy Cashill *
* Johnny Cashill * Jack Clifford * Harley Coleman * * Larry Coleman * Mel Coleman *
* Tommy Comiskey * Honeyboy Conroy *
* Bates Cunningham *
D. * Donnie Dean * Eddie Debeau * Billy Defoe *
* Jimmy Delaney *
E. * Billy Emke * Kewpie Ertle * Mike Ertle *
F. * Del Flanagan * Glen Flanagan * Red Fry *
G. * Dago Joe Gans * Jack Gibbons *
* Jim Gibbons * Mike Gibbons * Tommy Gibbons *
H. * Floyd Hagen * Tommy Hannon * Bill Hart *
* Jimmy Hegerle * Doc Holly * Clyde Hull *
* Flea Huston *
I. * Rudy Ille *
J. * Rusty Jones *
K. * Johnny Kearns * Sherald Kennard *
* Irish Kennedy * Steve Koran *
L. * Harry Labarre * Johnny Larkin *
* Freddie Lenhart * Jack Libgott * Billy Light *
* Farmer Lodge *
M. * Billy McCabe * Jack McCann *
* Buddy MacDonald * Mickey McDonough *
* Eddie McFadden * Saph McKenna *
* Stewart McLean * Porky McPartlin *
* Jock Malone * Mike Mandell * Myles Martinez *
* Wildcat Mason * Guy Mauro * Benny Mertens *
* Paul Milnar * Billy Miske * Billy Miske, Jr. *
* Phil Morrow * Frank Muskie *
N. * Johnny Nichols * Jack Nitti * Al Norton *
* Johnny Noye *
O. * Johnny O’Donnell * Mike O’Dowd *
* Jimmy O’Hara * Johnny O’Hara *
P. * Jim Perrault * Earl Peterson *
R. * Benny Ray * Charley Retzlaff *
* Mickey Rose *
S. * Johnny Salvator * Mike Sauro *
* Lee Savold * Stan Savold * Johnny Schauers *
* Len Schwabel * Buff Seidl * Artie Sheire *
* Wayne Short * Billy Showers * Kid Silk *
* My Sullivan *
T. * Ray Temple * Sammy Terrin *
V. * Al Van Ryan *
W. * Bobby Ward * Marv Wason * Dick Watzl *
* Emmett Weller * Billy Whelan * Harvey Woods *
Z. * Dick Zasada *
Copyright 2012-2015 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.