National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Looking Back To Hall of Fame Opening In 1976

Amateur Wrestling News
Originally Published October 9, 1976

The sport of wrestling has reached a long-awaited milestone with the opening of its hall of fame and museum in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Dedication and formal opening of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame were conducted Saturday, September 11, 1976 by the United States Wrestling Federation. The weekend’s activities were highlighted by induction of the charter class of 14 Distinguished Members during the first annual Honors Banquet.

Outstanding wrestling personalities from across the nation, including eight Olympic champions, were on hand to participate in the dedication, banquet and other activities. Each of the eight living inductees was present, and the six honored posthumously were represented by their wives, sons and daughters.

In the central Honors Court of the Hall of Fame, each of the 14 Distinguished Members is recognized by a large granite plaque, each accompanied by an individual audio system extolling his achievements in the sport.

Smaller replicas of the granite plaques were presented to the Distinguished Members or their families. Each recipient was invited to select a person to present this plaque at the banquet. Honored as the charter class were:

Dr. Raymond G. Clapp, University of Nebraska – Presented to Catherine Clapp Morrill of Fort Collins, Colorado, a daughter, by Buel Patterson, Dr. Clapp’s successor as chairman of the collegiate rules committee.

Fendley A. Collins, Michigan State University – Presented to Sandra Collins Murray of Paw Paw, Michigan, and Jody Collins O’Leary of East Lansing, Michigan, daughters, by Dr. Merle Jennings and Burl Jennings, two of his NCAA champion wrestlers.

Jay T. “Tommy” Evans, University of Oklahoma – Presented by Port Robert­son, his coach.

Edward Clark Gallagher, Oklahoma State University  – Presented to Kenneth T. Gallagher of Stillwater, a son, by Frank W. Lewis, an Olympic champion coached by Gallagher.

Art Griffith, Oklahoma State University – Presented by Jack A. Griffith and Jim Griffith, his sons.

Dan Allen Hodge, University of Oklahoma – Presented by Port Robertson, his coach.

Clifford P. Keen, University of Michigan – Presented by Paul V. Keen, his brother.

David H. McCuskey, University of Northern Iowa and University of Iowa – Presented by Bill Nelson, one of his champion wrestlers.

George N. Mehnert, Newark, New Jersey – Presented to Janet Mehnert Gaynor of Parsippany, New Jersey and Lillian Mehnert Jacobus of Glendale, California, his daughters, by Don Sayenga, wrestling historian.

Hugo M. Otopalik, Iowa State University – Presented to Dr. H. Brown Otopalik of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, his son, and Mary Jean Otopalik Poppen of Eugene, Oregon, his daughter, by Glen Brand, an Olympic champion coached by Otopalik.

Rex A. Peery, University of Pittsburgh – Presented by Dr. Hugh Peery and Edwin C. Peery, his sons, both championship wrestlers.

Myron W. Roderick, Oklahoma State University – Presented by Boyd Roderick, his father.

William “Billy” Sheridan, Lehigh University – Presented to Mrs. Sheridan by Margie Sheridan Finger of Michigan City, Indiana, their daughter.

Jack F. VanBebber, Oklahoma State University – Presented by Earl VanBebber, his brother.

Master of ceremonies and keynote speaker for the Honors Banquet was Frank Gifford, noted sportscaster for ABC television and radio and TV “voice” of Olympic wrestling at Munich and Montreal.

Another highlight of the Honors Banquet was presentation of a special citation from President Ford, who once played football under the coaching of Cliff Keen at Michigan. Representing the White House was Richard Keelor of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness.

The weekend’s activities started Friday night with an informal get-together for the honored guests and their families and continued Saturday morning with a breakfast for more than two dozen visiting Olympic wrestlers – including oldtimers Russell Vis and Robin Reed, gold medalists at the 1924 Games at Paris.

Presiding over the formal dedication Saturday morning was Ken Kraft, the U.S. Wrestling Federation president. He accepted the deed to the debt-free building from Dr. Melvin D. Jones of Oklahoma City, who chaired the original corporation formed to land the Hall of Fame site for Stillwater, raise the necessary funds and complete construction of the building. Kraft and Jones shared the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Myron Roderick, president of the Board of Governors of the new support group, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Inc.

An appreciation luncheon for donors to the $550,000 project followed, and the new Distinguished Members were introduced at halftime of a Saturday afternoon football game in the Oklahoma State University stadium only a couple of hundred yards away from the Hall of Fame.

As each inductee was honored at the banquet, his achievements in wrestling were related by Gifford, accompanied by a slide presentation highlighting his career.

A private showing of the Hall of Fame for the members and their families on Sunday morning was followed by an afternoon open house.

In addition to the Honors Court, the 10,000-square foot Hall of Fame houses a museum of wrestling history, a hall of founders recognizing the hundreds of donors, an additional display hall, a library, a theater, and the national offices of the U. S. Wrestling Federation.

Focal point of the entry hall is a 1,600-pound green marble statue, a 19th-century copy of the classic Greek sculpture, The Wrestlers.

Displays in the museum span the history of wrestling from its earliest beginnings as a competitive sport some 5,000 years ago to the achievements of the 1976 Olympians. Dotting the spacious display cabinets are championship trophies, plaques and medals, early-day and Modern Olympic and collegiate uniforms, unusual equipment and hundreds of photographs, programs, books and clippings.

Featured is the 1932 Olympic gold medal won by Jack VanBebber in the Los Angeles Games.

Personal memorabilia of the 14 Distinguished Members spice many of the displays, such as the track and field medals of Ed Gallagher, Dr. Clapp’s first rule book with his hand-written editing notes, Hugo Otopalik’s 1915 championship plaque, the voucher for Billy Sheridan’s first coaching paycheck

“We are proud and very pleased to open the hall to the public,” said Hall of Fame director Bob Dellinger. “It is an exciting moment for the sport of wrestling. Yet it would be inappropriate to say we have achieved our goals. Rather, say we have reached a point of new beginning. Our ultimate goal is to create a continuing, growing, lasting tribute to the sport of wrestling and to its people.”

The 14 charter members were selected from a list of 56 candidates nominated by the general public over a six-month period. The names then were submitted to a nationwide committee of 18 electors, each of whom cast a ballot for 25 candidates. Approval by 75 percent, or 14 of the electors, was required f or induction to the Hall of Fame. Nominations for the second annual election are now being accepted and forms for nomination may be obtained from the Hall of Fame office at 405 West Hall of Fame Avenue in Stillwater, Okla. 74074.