HUSBAND & FATHER
"Love is not the stuff of songs, but life and living, rights and wrongs." (T. L. O'Hara, Metaphors 64 (Lens & Pens Publications 2014.)
With his father’s blessing, Jim changed his name legally from Ehrich to O’Hara in 1948 when he married the love of his life, Kathleen Muriel Ann Weimer. She answers to “Kay” as well as “Kitty.” While most call her Kitty, Jim called her Kathleen.
When they married he asked her which family name she wanted. She said O’Hara because that was the name she was used to. See Round 4, entitled The O’Hara Name & St. Paul.
Now there’s no two ways about it: Jim was known to swear with the best of them. You weren’t quite sure how to react when he claimed to live in a constant state of grace. But one thing for sure was the rule he strictly enforced that no one is to swear in the presence of a lady, particularly Kitty, their daughter, their daughters-in-law, and their granddaughters. He must have acquired this rule when his Ma, as he called her, was alive.
One evening at a boxing show an out-of-towner crossed the line. He was in charge of the television crew working the fight in St. Paul. Kitty heard the foul-mouthed confrontation after there was a delay to the start of the fight due to safety reasons the guy didn’t appreciate. Later that night, Jim spotted the gentleman alone in the hotel bar. Near 60 and ready for anything, Jim delivered seven words to the younger man: “The job is too big for you.”
Jim treasured his marriage. He and Kitty laughed a lot. She was his rock and inspiration. With her help he began in the early 1970s his 30 years of sobriety.
Cheerful and invigorated, he always credited Kitty for what he considered his best years.
He was a romantic, and he lived around death his entire life. He said many times that if Kitty passed on before him, he wasn’t sure he’d survive for long.
He was sentimental. After his Aunt Ethel Hoban died on April 17, 1982, he sat alone a long time at the wake. She and her husband, John Hoban (O’Hara by birth), had taken Jim in from the orphanage. See Round 4, entitled The O’Hara Name & St. Paul.
Jim had a quick and ferocious temper. When he was boy a well-intentioned nun warned him that with his temper, he could someday kill someone. With the support of his faith, Alcoholics Anonymous and his family and friends, Jim mellowed. He became so mellow that he regularly flashed the peace sign in traffic even if the other guy made another sign. He thought just about everything in life is timing, like boxing, and he drove in the slow lane in order to hit every green light and not touch the brakes.
If alcohol is a common problem area for athletes, Jim sidestepped another potential problem area: money management. Murray McLean, Jim’s manager, accounted for every penny. Thus Jim had the good fortune of witnessing that accountability is the key to good, lasting management.
Here it was not only accountability. It was Midwestern accountability Jim banked on. In the process Murray became family, and he appreciated that Jim, a child of the Great Depression, was instinctively conservative and modest when money came his way. It was important to Jim to be a good provider, and he was. See Round 13, entitled The Businessman.
Kitty and Jim adored each other. She worked a spell as a dance instructor at the Prom Ballroom in St. Paul, teaching the Jitterbug, the Lindy, the Tango, and the Waltz. She and Jim could cut a rug in their day, dancing the Samba as well as the Jitterbug and the Lindy. No one was more surprised than Kitty when Jim first displayed his Samba footwork one evening on the dance floor at The Saint Paul Hotel.
Their song was Sentimental Journey. Their second favorite was It Had To Be You.
If Jim could dance, he sure couldn’t sing, which frustrated the heck out of him. He sang “Mona Lisa.” That’s it, just the name. “That’s enough,” laughed Kitty, covering her ears. He also routinely took stabs at It Had To Be You.
If he liked poetry, you weren’t aware of it. If he appreciated art, he never bought any. He never had a tattoo, but you know what it would say if he had one: “Kathleen.”
You could say he was a coin collector of sorts. He enjoyed saving coins, including Buffalo Nickels, Roosevelt Dimes, and Kennedy Half Dollars. He liked their feel and the dates paralleling boxing history. Also known as the Indian Head Nickel, the Buffalo Nickel was introduced in 1913, the same year Minnesota legalized six-rounders with eight-ounce gloves. Alas, he handled his collection bare handed and kept them one on top of the other in an old cigar box.
Kitty didn’t know him before his boxing days. They met in 1942 on a double date -- other than with each other. She was 18, the older woman with a 15-month head start on Jim. He was nearly 17 and a Golden Gloves boxer living at the downtown St. Paul YMCA.
They both had hazel eyes. She had black hair, beginning to gray; he, brown hair.
To support himself he drove a beer truck for Pabst Blue Ribbon. She was a high school graduate. He never went beyond the eighth grade but he had a confidence and wit that interested her.
Beautiful, intelligent and fun, Kitty had more than a few suitors who wanted her hand in marriage. But Jim was able to capture her heart as she had captured his. He courted her for the next six years, and their romance never ended.
Vic Tedesco mentions in his autobiography, which is an interesting window into St. Paul’s history, that at age 15 he had a crush on Kitty. (Vic Tedesco and Trudi Hahn, I Always Sang For My Father (Or Anyone Who Would Listen) 171 (Syren Book Company 2006).)
On some of their dates Kitty and Jim were out late at Mickey’s Diner, the 24-hour joint that resembles a railroad dining car, located in downtown St. Paul. Some evenings Kitty, a great cook, wowed Jim in her kitchen at home. Steak was always his favorite, banana cream pie his favorite dessert.
Kitty’s parents were Walter Weimer, of German descent, and Ellen Loretta Urguard, of equal French and Irish descent. Walter's nickname was stubs, a reference to his five-foot frame. His twin sister was Bernice, whose married name was Bernice Kirby. She had two sons, Harry and Jack.
Stubs had black hair, which grayed. Ellen, Kitty's mom, had brown hair before it all turned white in her 20s. Her eyes were brown.
Stubs and Ellen had five children, George (known as Stubby), Bob, Walter Howard (known as Howie), Kitty, and John (known as Jack).
Ellen died in 1927 at the age of 33; Kitty was three and Jack was an infant. Not feeling well, Ellen lay down to rest and died then and there of a brain aneurism.
Her death meant the family was broken up, with Kitty going to live with her maternal grandmother, Catherine Manahan, who was then 64 and twice widowed.
Catherine was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1863, and was 5-foot even. Her profession was midwifery, the stuff of life. Kitty said her grandmother was always happy, taking things as they come. She was never crabby a day in her life.
When Kitty’s brother George first began to talk his little tongue came up with “Gagee” in place of Granny or some such reference, and so Catherine Manahan came to be called Gagee.
Kitty’s infant brother, Jack, was taken in by Gagee’s good friend Mrs. Pakel, who owned a farm out of town along the Mississippi River. Mrs. Pakel died about eight years later and Gagee, now 72, welcomed Jack into her home.
The older boys initially lived with their father but Gagee eventually took them all in, too. She was a Saint.
When Kitty was 16, her father was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. He was a good man with a heck of a mind who’d battled alcoholism for years. He’d earned a living as a milkman and eventually started bartending. At one time he’d managed a coffee company. Most recently he had his own apartment on Daly Street, around the corner from Rothmeir’s Saloon on West 7th Avenue where he worked.
Rothmeir’s was next to the Garden Movie Theater, which Kitty frequented after getting candy from her dad at Rothmeir’s.
Now he was dying and needed a home with care. What was Gagee to do? Why she welcomed her son-in-law into her home to live his remaining days with dignity. Under Gagee and Kitty’s care he lived another two years, dying at age 55 in December 1942 when Kitty was 18.
It was a sad Christmas. But Jim was grateful he’d at least gotten to meet Stubs. When Stubs found out he was a boxer, Stubs told the story of how in his day he’d won a go with Billy Whelan. That story made an impression on Jim, and they had a nice chat. Jim informed Kitty that Whelan was a good boxer, fighting professionally out of St. Paul as a featherweight (126 lbs. max.).
Small in stature, Kitty’s four brothers were capable of amazing physical feats. Her brother George, known as Stubby, could hit the ball so well that he was known as Little Poison. Back in the day he played under the lights at St. Paul’s Dunning Field, the home of his semi-pro fast-pitch softball team.
Jim was amazed when Stubby said he could actually see the ball as it came blazing in from the seemingly-close pitcher’s mound. In 2012 Kitty’s brother Bob turned 96 while still golfing regularly.
Roman Catholic, Kitty and Jim were married in the Church on November 6, 1948; Kitty was 24 years of age, 5-foot-2 and 1/2 and 98 lbs.; Jim a month shy of 23, 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs.
The wedding was in St. Paul’s West 7th Street area at St. Francis de Sales, where Kitty had gone to daily Mass for years. She also had attended the Parish grade school.
A central figure at the wedding was Gagee, Kitty’s grandmother, now 85 years of age. Kitty had told Jim that Ma, as Kitty also called her, was part of the deal. She was going to live with them or, rather, them with her to begin with. Just as Gagee had taken Kitty in at age three and raised her, so Kitty was committed to care for Gagee for the rest of her life. Jim loved Gagee, too. She was full of Irish wit and wisdom that continually delighted everyone.
For their honeymoon Jim and Kitty spent a couple days in Wisconsin and then returned home to care for Gagee. The newlyweds lived in Gagee’s home near the intersection of St. Clair and Pleasant Avenues in St. Paul. Then in the summer of 1951 they bought their own home a mile or so west near the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and Lexington Parkway, and of course Gagee moved in with them.
Gagee spent her last years using a wheelchair to get around due to diabetes. Jim could make the tough calls. Thus it was that, unbeknownst to Kitty as she was in St. Paul’s Miller Hospital in January 1955 with their newborn daughter, he took Gagee to St. Paul’s Anchor Hospital for temporary care. Kitty was shocked when she came home and Gagee wasn’t there. Jim gave an account of all that had been set up for Gagee and the great care she was receiving. Kitty soon moved Gagee to a nursing home not far from home. Gagee died not long after, in September 1955, at the age of 92.
A 1942 graduate of Monroe High in St. Paul, Kitty was no wallflower. When Jim spoke of his days in the orphanage, she told him to “put away the violin.” Everyone knew her childhood was no bed of roses. She was only three when her mother had died, and she had never lived with her father until she was 16 and he came to Gagee’s to die.
Kitty had fight in her, and Jim got the biggest kick out of her independent spirit. Work was her middle name. When Jim wanted to hire someone to paint the house, Kitty said she could do a better job for less money. She painted the entire outside of the two-story house three times, not to mention the inside.
Kitty got her work ethic from Gagee. “No rest for the wicked,” Gagge said mischievously. She showed Kitty how to embrace work, teaching her it feels good to get things done. As a child Kitty made money babysitting and later as a teenager cleaning house for a neighbor on Pleasant Avenue. When the kids got home from school, she was there to greet them with a snack and then cleaned until their mom got home from work.
Upon graduation in 1942, Kitty went to work in the accounting department of Montgomery Ward Department Store on University Avenue near Snelling. She took the electric streetcar up St. Clair Avenue to Snelling, where she transferred to get to University. Soon she moved down the street to Brown & Bigelow, also on University, where she made playing cards and calendars.
When she needed to downshift into part-time employment so she could be home to care for Gagee, she landed as a sales clerk at Grant’s, a dime store downtown. When she met Jim, he started visiting her regularly at Grant’s. She took the electric streetcar down St. Clair and then on to West 7th to work, and Jim often drove her home when she was done.
Later in 1943 Kitty went to work full-time at the downtown St. Paul location of Western Electric, then a big electrical engineering and manufacturing firm. She worked the swing shift, caring for Gagee during the day. Kitty wired all kinds of things at Western Electric, including public telephones, the ones housed in the phone booths that were a common sight on street corners. Jim’s sister Lorraine also worked there. Most nights Jim was waiting for Kitty when her shift ended around 11:30 p.m.
The photo hasn’t been found but Western Electric used Kitty’s image in one of its advertisements.
With eight years at Western Electric, Kitty landed her next full-time job at 3M on St. Paul’s East Side. Working the swing shift, Kitty continued to use the streetcar as her primary means of transportation. She transferred streetcars downtown at Seven Corners. The job didn’t last long, however, because Kitty was soon pregnant with their first child. She and Jim decided she should be home with the baby as well as Gagee. So she quit her new job, and Gary was born in April 1951.
After Gary was born, Kitty worked evenings as a hostess at the Town House Restaurant on University Avenue. A local teenager kept an eye on Gary. To get to work, Kitty bought her first automobile, a boxy looking used Chevy for $300 from a lot on Grand Avenue. She hadn’t consulted Jim on the purchase.
If you figure a conservative four percent annual inflation rate, $300 in 1951 might be about $3,553 in 2015 dollars. So you can imagine the car wasn’t necessarily the most reliable. Jim didn’t think much of her purchase, and two weeks later he saw his opening. They were driving by a lot on University Avenue and Kitty pointed at a German-made convertible known as an Opel. “Look, Jimmy, isn’t that cute.” Was she surprised the next day when she saw the Opel in front of the house. Through 2013 Kitty still drove a convertible. Her license plate? Why “KITTY O” of course.
Lynn was born in 1955, whereupon Kitty started a day care business in their home. After Jeff was born in 1964, she started working part-time at Lerner’s Women’s Clothing Store in the Midway Center at the intersection of University and Snelling Avenues.
In January 1968, after 17 years more or less at home with the kids, Kitty rejoined the workforce full-time. She was hired at the Arden Hills location of Control Data, then a supercomputer firm. There she soldered computer components. Working 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Kitty didn’t like the early mornings at first but in 20 years with the company, she was never late.
She loved her Control Data job. There was a good spirit among the workers. She used to ask them: “You know why we’re all here?” They then answered: “Because we’re not all there.” Some of her fondest work-related memories are her trips to England and Germany to work on supercomputers. Every party has to have a pooper, so Jim didn’t come along on her three overseas trips. He sure missed her but he wasn’t one for sightseeing and he always had work that needed to get done in St. Paul.
In her free time Kitty was an excellent bowler and golfer. Despite being athletic, Kitty never learned to swim. There were no lakes or pools in her neighborhood, and the nearby Mississippi was too dangerous. Jim could swim like a fish. One summer in the 1970s the family was enjoying a hot day poolside at a friend’s apartment building. Kitty was cooling off in the shallow area when suddenly she hit the drop-off and was quickly approaching the bottom of the deep end. “Jimmy!” was the last thing anyone heard. Like a flash Jim dove low, wrapped his arms around her legs, and returned her to the shallow area.
If she lost her father to sclerosis of the liver, Kitty was determined Jim wasn’t going to share the same fate. When things got intolerable, she communicated loud and clear that he was to shape up. There was no ambiguity in her message, which was accompanied by definitive action, and no weakness in her resolve.
After being on the receiving end of sustained tough love, Jim could see no fancy footwork was going to allow him not to change. So he threw in the towel, the only rational option available to him. Indeed he became somewhat of a marriage counselor. He said there’s only one word a husband needs to learn for a good marriage: Yield.
He suggested you do the math: “Wouldn’t you rather yield and get your family back than be right all the time and alone?” He knew what he was talking about. His epiphany was on his 46th birthday, December 23, 1971, at Gallivan’s Bar & Restaurant on Wabasha Street in downtown St. Paul. One of the spots where Jim got to know the lawyers and judges and politicians and reporters so well, the wood-paneled Gallivan’s was famous. The proprietor, Bob Gallivan, had a good location near both the Court House/City Hall and the St. Paul Pioneer Press Building.
On that day Jim put down the beer bottle for good, saying to himself: “What the – – – – am I doing here?” He joined AA and recruited his buddies. AA is supposed to be anonymous, but the group Jim put together for weekly meetings was full of local celebrities. They talked sports and supported one another, making their wives very happy.
Later in life Jim accompanied middleweight champ Jake LaMotta when the Raging Bull made an appearance in St. Paul at Mancini’s steakhouse on West 7th Avenue. In 1985 LaMotta was married in Las Vegas when everyone was there for the Hagler-Hearns fight. As the story goes:
Two days before The Fight, Jake LaMotta was married for the sixth time, around the corner from Caesars at the Maxim’s wedding chapel. Sugar Ray Robinson, who had in his heyday engaged the Raging Bull in six brutal fights (and won five of them), was the best man.
Midway through the ceremony a telephone rang. Hearing the bell, LaMotta asked, “What round is it?”
“Sixth,” somebody replied.
(George Kimball, Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing, Chapter 7 (McBooks Press, Inc. 2008), Kindle Edition.) Robinson is ranked number one, pound for pound, on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time while LaMotta is ranked number 27 to Hagler’s number 47 and Hearns’ number 50. (Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing’s Greatest Fighters 1, 86, 159, and 171 (The Lyons Press 2006).)
Over the years Kitty followed the many colorful people in Minnesota boxing. Scott LeDoux and Gary Holmgren were two of her favorites. Others in all facets of boxing include Joe Azzone, Tommy Barrone, Jim Beattie, Duane Bobick, Buzz Brown, Johnny Cashill, Honeyboy Conroy, Billy Emke, Del Flanagan, Glen Flanagan, Jack Gibbons, Floyd Hagen, Jimmy Hegerle, Johnny Larkin, Billy Light, Mike Mandell, Myles Martinez, Billy McCabe, Murray McClean, Porky McPartlin, Billy Miske, Jr., Frank Muskie, Johnny O’Donnell, Mike O’Dowd, Jack Raleigh, Tiger Jack Rosenbloom, Johnny Salvator, Lee Savold, My Sullivan, Joe Stepka, Ray Temple, Emmett Weller, Billy Whelan, and Dick Zasada.
Beyond Minnesota’s borders, Jim introduced Kitty to the likes of Joe Louis and George Foreman. She got a kick out of meeting the actor Tony Danza, who they say was discovered in a boxing gym.
George Foreman had bodyguards watching as Kitty approached him at a boxing convention circa 1995. “Hey, George Foreman. I’m Kitty, Jim O’Hara’s wife, ” she said as she grabbed his arm. “Come with me. Jim’s over here.” Foreman was kind enough to go with her. Then the oldest reigning world heavyweight champ in history, Foreman had owned a home in Minneapolis and Jim knew him from those days.
Kitty remembers shaking hands with Sugar Ray Robinson. It was the early 1950s. Robinson was in Minnesota, staying at The Saint Paul Hotel, when Jim and Kitty had occasion to use the elevator there. Who should be on the elevator? Why the Sugarman himself, looking like a million bucks, along with a member of his entourage. Jim introduced Kitty. "Sugar Ray Robinson was so polite and handsome," said Kitty of the chance meeting. "Of course everyone in boxing was polite."
Kitty said that one thing about boxing is that all the people, top to bottom, were nice. “They were cordial, funny, and fun to be with," she added. “They may have been big shots in their various fields, but there were no snobs among them.”
One Sunday evening in the fall of 1998 Jim and Kitty rented out Mancini’s steakhouse to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. As you went from table to table saying hello, you were struck by how many personal relationships Jim had. Seating was limited but each friend there was in a sense his best friend, not to mention the many friends who had already passed on. Each had made a difference in his life. Boxing blessed him.
Of course Kitty became close with many boxers’ wives, including Del Flanagan’s wife, Barb, and Joe Azzone’s wife, Gloria. Another close friend was Dottie Riley, the beautiful wife of sports columnist Don Riley.
Jim was worshiped by his four children, Gary, Lynn, Steve, and Jeff.
They say family is a patchwork of love. With Gary born in the early 1950s and Jeff born in the mid-1960s, the kids had markedly different home-life experiences. When Gary was little Jim was still in training, Kitty took care of Gagee at home, and the family had minimal disposable income. When Jeff was little his siblings kept an eye on him beginning in 1968 when Kitty went back to work, pizza places and Clark’s Submarine sandwiches were becoming popular, and Jim (by now a successful salesman for Jerry’s Produce) was on the verge of financial security. See Round 13, entitled The Businessman.
By the time Jeff was a teenager, Gary had long moved out and the family, if not on easy street, was a member of the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
Born in 1951, seven months before his Uncle Mike was killed, Gary is the most like Jim. Back then as Jim struggled with the illusion of revenge, Gary’s very existence helped keep Jim’s head on straight. Kitty forcefully reminded him that he now had a child. More than a responsibility, Gary was hope for the future. Kitty and Gary helped Jim keep to the high road. If Mike’s killing was a turning point in the development of Jim’s mental toughness and integrity, much of the credit must go to Kitty and Gary. See Round 3, entitled The Unspeakable.
Gary resides in St. Paul and is married with three children. He makes a living as an executive with Xcel Energy. His hobbies include working at his lake home in northern Minnesota.
Born in 1955, Lynn is Jim’s only daughter. With the help of an incubator at St. Paul’s Miller Hospital, she grew from four pounds 11 ounces to six pounds a couple months later when she was allowed to be taken home. Jim and Kitty naturally visited her every day during this critical period. Growing up she delighted her parents with piano recitals and may have been the best athlete in the bunch. She resides in St. Paul and is married with two children. She makes a living as a real estate agent. Her hobbies include reading a good book at her lake home in Wisconsin.
Born in 1957 Steve, this writer, resides in Anchorage, Alaska, and is married with three children. He makes a living practicing law. www.bgolaw.pro. His hobbies include football and sport fishing. This writer hung on his father's every word. Thus Jim’s story, as presented in this website, www.60yearsofboxing.org, is written in the same style as Jim spoke and wrote. Compare this writing with Jim’s at the beginning of Round 14, entitled The Storyteller.
Born in 1964, Jeff is the most accomplished athlete. He resides in White Bear Lake; he hasn’t yet married. He makes a living as a mortgage broker. Golf is his game as an adult, and he has two holes-in-one in the books. His boxing experiences include getting to spend time with Muhammad Ali. See Round 11, entitled Muhammad Ali.
Throughout their life together Kitty and Jim developed an attachment to the family home as the place where their four children ran and played and grew up. A detail guy, especially when it came to numbers, Jim always pointed at the evergreen he planted in the backyard when this writer was one year, one month, one week, and one day old.
When he put his trigger finger and thumb to his mouth and whistled, you could hear it a block away on Osceola Avenue. You knew to hightail it home.
If he threatened the belt when you had it coming, the exception was his daughter. He never spanked her.
If you become good at what you have the patience to practice, Jim wasn’t good with a tangled fishing line or a home painting project. He had no patience there. Somewhere along the line he developed a skill for getting people to work together. Here he had patience.
There were dark days in the 1960s in the O’Hara household, none darker than the winter of 1967-1968 during Kitty’s scare with cancer. But with her strength and optimism and Jim’s quitting drinking for good in 1971, Kitty and Jim enjoyed each day together the next 30 years.
As mentioned, Jim was sentimental. Even after you reached adulthood, he asked for a kiss on the cheek each time you left the house. When your latest girlfriend finally dumped you, he let you know he cared.
You never saw Jim cry, except Kitty said he cried when Ray Temple died in October 1972. She said Jim took it hard. Temple had taught him to box. Jim also cried after seeing the 1992 film A River Runs Though It, remembering his brother Mike. (See Round 3, entitled The Unspeakable.)
A child of the Great Depression, Jim always lived modestly. Physical possessions never became important to him, but he got a kick out of and enjoyed relaxing at his children’s homes.
“They got their brains from their mother,” said Jim of his children. In 2014 Kitty was still doing crossword puzzles while tying her shoes and carrying on a conversation.
Kitty and Jim never bought a cabin or second home. “Too much work,” he said, as if he had had time to enjoy a place away from St. Paul. He never developed any hobbies outside of the sporting world. There was no need. His idea of a day off was a few hours at Jerry’s Produce, where he was a salesman since the 1950s, then a couple hours at the state Boxing Board office. Later at home he cut grass or shoveled snow, as the season dictated, while mulling over the latest sporting news.
Meeting his pals at Cossetta’s restaurant on Saturday mornings and Mancini’s steakhouse late afternoons was something he looked forward to. They’d chew the fat for hours.
Kitty and Jim never became interested in a time-share or other investment along those lines. Each February for several years in the 1990s they rented a condo in Naples, Florida. One year they drove there but never again. Jim didn’t like competing for space with semi-trailer trucks. A boxer rather than a puncher or fighter, he instinctively needed space. See Round 6, entitled The Boxer.
There was no cell phone or email for Jim. Old school in terms of gathering information, he never searched the World Wide Web.
Kitty and Jim also considered as part of the family this writer’s friends James Bealka, David Breckman, Gene Quicksell, Bill Hren, and Tom Gartland. These guys were regulars, delighting Kitty and Jim, beginning in about fifth grade through their college years.
Gartland was captain of the 1974 Cretin High football team, while Hren was captain of the 1979 College of St. Thomas football team.
Mel Gartland, Tom’s father, was a great guy and a good boxer in his day. Another thing he had in common with Jim was being found unfit for military duty (classified 4-F) during World War II.
Gene Quicksell’s father, Don Quicksell, was the real hero. During the War he somehow survived in shark-infested waters in the Pacific. After the War he and his wife, Honora (“Honi”) Quicksell, had 10 children and sacrificed to put them all through Catholic grade school and high school.
There’s nothing like a coach to instill discipline and model good citizenship. Jim was grateful his children had had the benefit of great coaches in St. Paul, including Mark Dienhart at St. Thomas College. Dienhart would go to great heights after his first college coaching assignment, the 1975 junior-varsity football team at St. Thomas. Bill Hren and this writer were on JV while Tom Gartland made varsity that year.
Twenty years later, in 1995, Dienhart became the Athletic Director at the University of Minnesota. While Athletic Director he gave a talk at Hafner’s Restaurant on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul where Jim saw him. “The AD of the U of M asks me if I’m Steve’s dad,” recalled Jim. “Imagine that.”
If he didn’t know the coaches well, Jim knew the refs. One Friday night in Burnsville during the 1974 high school football season this writer was getting killed. Jim was walking the sidelines, as was his custom. The head referee, Jim’s good friend James Griffin, spoke with him before talking to the coaching staff. Griffin was then the St. Paul Deputy Police Chief.
Especially compared to the childhoods of their parents, the children of Kitty and Jim had a sheltered childhood. Their parents wanted them to have a better life than they had had. As an intentional part of parenting, Jim steered his children away from entering the ring.
Emmett Yenez taught Gary how to box at the downtown St. Paul YMCA. “As soon as I saw Gary was good,” said Jim, “I shut it down. Boxing’s a way out, not a way up.”
Sure, he encouraged you to punch his buddy Dick Zasada’s big open hand at Friday night’s boxing show at the St. Paul Armory, but street fighting was frowned upon and any type of boxing career out of the question. Nobody was going to work with you without Jim’s blessing.
As a person, Jim was all a friend is made of, loyal, understanding, generous, and he didn’t seem to have time for jealousy or rivalry. While keeping up with old friends he had a large capacity to make new friends of all ages.
If he thought you a blowhard or if he had a gut feeling against you, he didn’t give you the time of day, at least in a social setting. He didn’t acknowledge your presence even if you asked a direct question. He looked straight through you. If you were a blowhard, he couldn’t care less what you thought.
He loved to chew the fat, telling and listening to stories. Sundays and holidays were the days he used the least amount of words. On many of those afternoons and evenings he looked irritable and spent. When he said he felt sick you knew to leave him alone. He read and watched TV and read some more. If he was looking back or to the future, he kept it to himself.
He was known to blow his top if you gave him lip or showed disrespect to another family member, such as in a debate over politics or religion.
At Jim’s side Kitty and their children saw a lot of live boxing over the years at many venues. The boxing shows included exhibitions at the HarMar mall in Roseville, Friday Night Fights at the St. Paul Armory, evenings at the St. Paul Auditorium, and dinner shows at the Radisson Riverfront Hotel in St. Paul as well as events at the St. Paul Prom Ballroom, the Minneapolis Auditorium, and the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington.
Asked by his children if boxing gloves soften the blow for the hittee, as Jim called that person, Jim confirmed no way.
Kitty and Jim both loved everything about a live boxing show. Besides the fighters, there were characters everywhere. Former Boxing Commissioner Dan Wall recalled in 2012 that Jim used to say: “Kitty doesn’t like the fights, she likes the people.”
Fans made the experience complete, especially those who were not just cheering the fighters. Boxing essayist A.J. Liebling, who believed television would put boxing in a coma, observed:
Addressing yourself to the fighter when you want somebody else to hear you is a parliamentary devise, like “Mr. Chairman….” Before television, a prize-fight was to a New Yorker the nearest equivalent to the New England town meeting. It taught a man to think on his seat.
These words of A.J. Liebling appear in the essay entitled The Big Fellows: Boxing with the Naked Eye in the book Sports Illustrated ranked, in 2002, the number one sports book of all time: The Sweet Science (The Viking Press 1956). For his essays on boxing, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. For his view on television putting boxing into a coma, see his comments quoted near the end of Round 13, entitled The Businessman.
You could count on Jim to tell corny jokes like the one about his balding head. “I’ve discovered how to save my hair,” he said with a smile. “In a cigar box.”
Driving by Calvary Cemetery on Front Street in St. Paul, he asked: “You know why there’s a fence around there? Because people are dying to get in.”
A practical investor, he owned as many as five burial plots in Calvary. Some boxing legends are buried there, including Billy Miske (1924), Mike Gibbons (1956), and Tommy Gibbons (1960).
A 100-percent city boy, Jim appreciated the beauty of the great outdoors in Alaska as well as in Minnesota. He and Kitty travelled to Alaska to visit family there many times over 20 years beginning in the early 1980s.
Wherever he travelled, just about any name could trigger a boxing story. The northernmost city in the U.S. is Barrow, Alaska. In boxing history, Joseph Louis Barrow was born May 13, 1914 in LaFayette, Alabama. On the eve of his scheduled exhibition with Louis in 1949, Jim declined to go inside the ropes. See Round 10, entitled Joe Louis.
They say that both promoter Tex Rickard and manager Jack “Doc” Kearns had been fortune seekers in the Yukon. In 1952 Jim and Kearns became friends. In 1972 The Ring magazine, the Bible of Boxing, published its 50th anniversary issue in which it named the top 10 boxing personalities of the previous 50 years. Rickard and Kearns were named number two and three.
The full list from number one to 10 is Jack Dempsey, Tex Rickard, Doc Kearns, Joe Louis, Max Baer, Muhammad Ali, promoter Mike Jacobs, Benny Leonard, Joe Frazier, and Primo Carnera. (The Ring, June 1972, at 32-41.)
In the early 1950s Jim did some pro wrestling. During that time Yukon Eric, a pro wrestler from Fairbanks, Alaska, was popular in Minnesota. (George Schire, Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling 12-13 (Minnesota Historical Society Press 2010).)
As mentioned Jim was friends with George Foreman, dating from the 1970s when Foreman owned a home in Minneapolis. In 1988 Foreman included Anchorage, Alaska as part of his comeback trail. There Foreman knocked out Frank Lux, alias Frank Williams and Frank Albert, in the third.
In 1994 at age 45 Foreman, with the legendary trainer Angelo Dundee in his corner, became the oldest world heavyweight champion in history with a right to the chin of Michael Moorer in the 10th.
Jim knew the medical doctors in St. Paul-Minneapolis and was always on the lookout for volunteers to help with the fights. He worked a lot with St. Paul’s Dr. Leroy Fox. A graduate of Northwestern University School of Medicine, Dr. Fox was always generous with his time.
From gout and hernia attacks to a scare with his voice box (the growth was benign) to hip replacements to prostate cancer to high blood pressure to open heart surgery to bladder cancer, Jim had faith in the medical profession.
All the doctors and nurses seemed to have a good bedside manner and liked to talk boxing. They also had done a good job in Kitty’s bout with cancer in the 1960s. Jim wasn’t a complainer but he said the waiting room of the oncology department at the University of Minnesota was tough. He felt powerless to help the young cancer victims staying at the Ronald McDonald House across the street, while at the same time their bravery and joy encouraged him.
Adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, the Serenity Prayer was one of Jim’s favorites: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
As a husband and father, Jim expressed his love often. He told you he loves you. Here’s a random collection of other things he said over the years:
Nobody lives forever this side of heaven. Jim arrived there in 2002, first class. See Round 16, entitled Irish Cross & Boxing Gloves. On the second anniversary of his death, Kitty published the following in the St. Paul Pioneer Press along with a photo of Jim wearing one his many Irish flat caps:
JIM O’HARA JAN 17, 2002. Remembering you with love. 2 years have passed since you left, but your smiles and laughter are still with me. I will always cherish the memories of you. My heart aches with sadness & my eyes shed many tears. God only knows how much I miss you at the end of 2 long years. Loving wife, children & grandchildren. Missed by all.
Copyright 2012-2015 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.