PWHF CELEBRATES MILESTONE
Fifth Annual Induction Weekend Successful
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum (PWHF) inducted the Class of 2006 during its’ annual PWHF Induction Weekend held on May 19-20 in Amsterdam, New York. The PWHF, which is incorporated in New York State as a not-for-profit institution, celebrated its’ fifth consecutive induction event. The three hundred available induction banquet tickets were sold out several weeks before the actual May 20th dinner. Wrestlers and fans from across North America attended the festivities. One reporter from Japan also found his way to Amsterdam to cover the activities of the PWHF for the Japanese people.
The PWHF was opened to the public on May 19th, 20th and 21st. Hundreds of people passed through the hall and viewed the large collection of wrestling memorabilia that is displayed on two floors of the renovated building located on East Main Street. Items ranging from Pink Gardner’s 1927 title belt to the ring worn gear of wrestling legends such as Killer Kowalski and The Fabulous Moolah are on display. A large wall filled with framed black-and-white photographs may take hours to fully appreciate. Attendees who were at the 2005 Induction weekend were impressed by the dramatic transformation of the hall over the previous year. PWHF officials received donations of wrestling materials from wrestlers and fans and additional displays are anticipated.
A live wrestling show was held on Friday, May 19th at the Amsterdam High School gymnasium. The card included Ax of Demolition, Matt Hyson (formerly Spike Dudley), Doink (Ray Apollo), The Missing Link (Dewey Robertson), a midget match, a women’s bout and several other features. The crowd of approximately five hundred people appreciated the energetic matches. This show was promoted independently of the PWHF and supplied fans with an enjoyable first night in Amsterdam.
On Saturday, May 20th, the annual PWHF convention was held at the Best Western Motel in Amsterdam. The event was attended by hundreds of fans and was followed in the afternoon by perhaps the best bargain in the wrestling world today – the PWHF Meet & Greet. For a ten-dollar ticket, fans are able to meet and obtain signatures from many of the wrestlers attending the weekend events. At this year’s Meet & Greet, Killer Kowalski, Don Leo Jonathan, Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer,J. J. Dillon, George “The Animal” Steele, The Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young, Missing Link, Penny Banner, “Irish” Terry Gunn, Ida May Martinez, Hillbilly Cousin Luke, Gloria Barratini, Kathleen Wimbley, Red Bastein, Billy Two Rivers, Tom Drake, Nick Bockwinkel and others were available for signatures and photographs. The fan response was so great that the wrestlers stayed an extra hour to accommodate all those seeking autographs. The wrestlers volunteer for this event as a way of raising funds for the continued growth of the PWHF.
The Induction Banquet was a catered event that was held Saturday evening at St. Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam High School Select Choir started the night by providing live music with a patriotic theme. PWHF Tony Vellano then introduced the emcee for the evening, former AWA Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Prior to the meal itself, Billy Two Rivers gave a Mohawk Indian Invocation. Andy Stefanides, son of wrestler Ali Bey, and Greg Oliver told the audience about their upcoming Titans in Toronto II fundraiser for the PWHF.Mayor Joseph Emanuele of Amsterdam also welcomed the crowd and stated that the PWHF has sparked the economy of his city. John Pantozzi and Bob Bryla then had the honor of introducing the wrestling celebrities in the audience. Tom Burke and Bob presented the “Final Pinfalls”, which is a tribute to wrestlers who have passed away since the last induction ceremony. Red Bastein, President of the Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC), and Karl Lauer, CAC Vice-President, presented the PWHF with a generous donation of one thousand dollars in recognition of the work that the PWHF is doing to preserve the legacy of professional wrestling.
Prior to the actual inductions and awards, a chicken Parmesan dinner with all the trimmings was served. The restaurant that catered the dinner must have known that wrestlers and wrestling fans enjoy a big meal as the food was plentiful. As one attendee stated, “I didn’t know that chicken breasts could be that large.”
After dinner, the podium was occupied by one famous wrestler after another. J. J. Dillon inducted Ric Flair, who was wrestling in Colorado that evening. Penny Banner was in attendance and had been scheduled to induct June Byers. Penny graciously asked that June’s niece, who had come with several family members from Texas, perform the induction. June’s niece related an interesting story about June being hit in the head with a Coke bottle and having quadruple vision thereafter. While driving, June saw four trees and picked the wrong one to avoid! Her wrestling career ended as a result of the accident and subsequent orthopedic surgery implants into her lower extremities. “Wild” Bill Longson was inducted by his friend and past opponent, Angelo Savoldi. Savoldi, a PWHF 2004 inductee, looked terrific at age ninety-two. Nick Bockwinkel told some humorous stories about inductees Ray Stevens and Bobby Heenan, his former partners in the AWA. One tale involved Heenan faking a limp to get to the head of a long line at the airport. Stevens became the first wrestler to be inducted in two categories, Tag Team and Modern Era. Johnny Valentine was inducted by his longtime friend and colleague, J. J. Dillon. Dillon’s high esteem for Valentine was obvious from his presentation. The Fabulous Moolah inducted Pat Patterson, whose travel commitment prevented his attendance. Patterson told PWHF officials that he plans on attending in 2007 to accept his beautiful induction ring.
The Senator Hugh Farley Award made its’ inaugural appearance at this year’s induction. This award replaced the New York State Award and is now open to any wrestler in the world. The award recognizes a wrestler who has made significant societal contributions outside of the squred circle. The winner this year was Ida May Martinez Selenkow, M.S., R.N., who spoke and then showed the audience why she is considered one of the world’s finest yodelers. The award is named after a New York State Senator who has helped encourage the founding of the PWHF. Senator Farley was in attendance and appeared to enjoy presenting Ida May with her award.
Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer spoke about the intersection of his life and career with inductees Ed Don George and Rikidozan. George started Beyer out in wrestling and the matches with Rikidozan cemented The Destoyer’s popularity in Japan. Dick then literally gave the shirt off of his back for the PWHF. Dick was wearing a shirt that contained the signatures of many famous wrestlers and offered it up for auction. The lucky winner donated two hundred and fifty dollars to the PWHF. Dick certainly knows how to entertain and make money for a worthy cause all at the same time.
The grand finale was the induction of Don Leo Jonathan. Red Bastien introduced the “Mormon Giant”. Don Leo had the crowd howling with laughter with his opening comment, which thanked the nominating committee for having the wisdom to induct him before he died. His wife, a brother, a son and several friends accompanied him. A finer gentleman than Don Leo would be difficult to locate. Every sentence he spoke seemed filled with humility and gratitude for his family and friends. He accommodated the fans the entire weekend and his hand never seemed to tire from signing autographs.
Response from people in attendance has been overwhelmingly positive. Pennsylvanian Ken Jugan (aka Lord Zoltan of the independent wrestling circuit) emailed PWHF officials and stated, “I had a super time. You guys all outdid yourselves in topping last year's event."
Staten Islander John Griffin, who attends every year with several friends, emailed with a unique perspective. Griffin writes, “Everyone had a great time as usual. DLJ was indeed a fantastic guest. Always nice to see the same fan faces each year. Kinda like summer camp!”
By Bob Bryla