The Hagemeister Park ballpark was enclosed by a fence in 1920.
Over their first 30 some years, the Packers were perpetually on their deathbed. Maybe not every minute, but there weren’t many extended respites, either.
From the time the team was organized on Aug. 11, 1919, until Sept. 29, 1957, the day Green Bay City Stadium was dedicated, the Packers faced one crisis after another.
There are countless people who deserve credit for pulling them through those dire times starting with Curly Lambeau and including the other members of the so-called “Hungry Five,” civic leaders Andrew Turnbull, Lee Joannes, Dr. W.W. Kelly and Gerald Clifford.
But that’s the short list and even if you add four other contributors in the Packers Hall of Fame who played as important a role as at least some members of the “Hungry Five,” it’s still a roll call of less than 10 people. Those other four contributors were George Whitney Calhoun, Frank Jonet, Emil Fischer and Fred Leicht.
The truth is a number of Packers pioneers have been shortchanged by history.
Hotel proprietor A.C. Witteborg and pharmacist Ed Schweger were originally credited with being among the five most important civic leaders in keeping the Packers afloat, but that was years before the term “Hungry Five” was coined. Ray Evrard was another who played an important role as team president, team attorney and early executive committee member.
But when Clifford became actively involved a decade into the Packers’ existence, Evrard, Witteborg and Schweger were overshadowed.
So were others who were absolutely critical to the Packers’ existence but didn’t stay actively involved long enough to ever have been given serious consideration for the Packers Hall of Fame.
Here are five who would top the list, pioneers overlooked by history who deserve better. One could even argue there would be no Packers today, if not for their contributions.
1. C.M. “Neil” Murphy – Thanks to him, the Packers turned a profit in their second season. And there’s reason to wonder if they had not made $6,049.53 in 1920 (almost $75,000 in today’s money) if their application to become members of the APFA the following year would have been submitted, much less approved. Murphy was named business manager of the Packers in the summer of 1920, essentially replacing Calhoun, and promptly started agitating for a fence to be built around the playing field at Hagemeister Park. In 1919, the Packers had played on an open field and had no way of raising money other than by passing a hat and asking spectators to drop their loose change in it. Within about a month after Murphy was named business manager, G.A. Walter of the Hagemeister Realty Co., gave him permission to put up a fence at the park. When Murphy worked out the details to build it at minimum cost, the financially strapped team was able to charge admission to its games. Murphy’s day job was selling Underwood typewriters and soon after the 1920 season he was transferred to Milwaukee, depriving Green Bay of one of its biggest sports boosters.
2. John Kittell – Late in the 1922 season, with the private Green Bay Football Club headed by Lambeau deep in debt, Kittell spoke to the local rotary club and revealed the Association of Commerce and other local businessmen were ready to do whatever it took to save Green Bay’s NFL franchise. Two weeks later, he presided over a meeting at the Elks Club where plans were mapped out for the stock sale that led to the creation of the non-profit Green Bay Football Corporation before the 1923 season. As the only attorney and one of only three people, along with Turnbull and Joannes, to sign the articles of incorporation, Kittell was almost certainly the one who wrote them and created the community-owned structure that makes the Packers unique to this day. Kittell subsequently presided, as temporary chairman, over the first stockholders meeting of the non-profit corporation and was elected vice president of its original five-man executive committee. Kittell died in 1932 at age 61.
3. Frank Peck – He was president of the Indian Packing Co. when it agreed to sponsor the Packers in their first season. Lambeau said Peck gave him $500, which would be more than $7,000 in today’s money. Calhoun wrote in 1934, the packing plant contributed enough to buy a half-dozen or so footballs, sweaters (or jerseys) and several sets of shoulder pads. Whatever Peck’s contribution, he probably had more to do with getting the Packers off the ground than anyone but Lambeau and Calhoun. He also was still president of Indian Packing in 1920 when the company agreed to donate the lumber for Murphy to build his fence. Peck came to Green Bay from Providence, R.I., in 1917, and was president of Indian Packing until it agreed to consolidate with Acme Packing in December 1921. By then, he had moved to Chicago. He died in Springfield, Mass., in 1943.
4. George DeLair – Owner of a Washington Street restaurant, DeLair might have been the Packers’ most ardent fan in the beginning. He hosted a banquet for the team at the end of the 1920 season. The following year, he organized the makeshift Lumberjack Band, which followed the Packers to Chicago for their first game against the Chicago Staleys (now the Bears) and helped ignite the most storied rivalry in the NFL. In 1922, DeLair was one of 12 charter members of the first Packers Booster Club and organized “Booster Day” in a last-ditch effort to save the deeply-in-debt Green Bay Football Club from folding. When a torrential downpour spoiled the effort and a meager crowd showed up for the Thanksgiving Day booster game against Duluth, DeLair helped organize the Green Bay Football Corporation and was a member of its first executive committee. He served one year. In June 1924, he committed suicide.
Brothers J. Emmett Clair (far right) and John Clair (second from right) ran the Packers in 1921.
5. J. Emmett Clair – Younger brother of John Clair, an officer of the Acme Packing Co., J. Emmett was Green Bay’s only representative when the APFA decided on Aug. 27, 1921, at a league meeting in Chicago to grant the Acme Packing Co. an APFA franchise. Two months later, when Acme was spiraling into debt, and representatives from banks in New York and Chicago came to Green Bay to take over the company, the Clairs continued to operate the franchise and kept it alive through the season. “The team is owned and managed and is financially backed by Messrs. J. Emmett and John Clair of the Acme Packing Company,” the Oct. 31, 1921 Dope Sheet, the Packers’ official publication, informed the team’s fans. When the season ended, the Packers were expelled from the APFA for using players from the University of Notre Dame under assumed names in a non-league game against Racine. On Jan. 28, 1922, at a league meeting, Clair, who was back living in Chicago, agreed to withdraw the franchise and pave the way for it to be reinstated and stay in Green Bay.