I went to the gym tonight and heard some bad news. Glenn McBrady, one of the coaches at the Panda, said he was going through the Sunday Paper and one of the members from the South Broadway Athletic Club, "Junie", passed away. Emmit J Garth. Junie. He died last week.
Junie sponsored me to become a member of the SBAC. The South Broadway Athletic Club is one of the oldest continuous boxing clubs in the US. Junie was one of the cool old guys who drew me into wanting to be a member. I would like to have such good friends as I grow older. The guys from the SBAC were from the neighborhood. They used to run together in forms of little gangs of kids. They kept in touch their whole lives as they grew older and some out of the neighborhood. But the SBAC was their place to stick together. As kids it kept them off the streets and out of trouble. As adults it was a bond of where they came from. The club has grown and also changed as the times. But it hasn't adjusted to the full glory of the club which ran from its inception through about the 60s. I have seen pictures from the old days and it was quite a bit different. The pictures were full of people, most of them young people. Families. Kids. Kids from the neighborhood.
Junie was always the guy who cracked jokes. Smooth and straight delivery. Most the other guys tried to mimic his wit, but it usually came off awkward, forced and just not sharp like Junie. Junie also was very corny, but in the very funny corny. Old jokes some, but the appropriate one. He was a shorter guy and didn't care at all about his height. He would make jokes about it. He had a full head of white hair and was very full of life, personality and just happy to be around. Junie worked nearly every bingo on Sunday nights at the club. I couldn't force the guys to work Bingo down at the club. I sponsored about another dozen or so guys to join the SBAC, but only one of them volunteered with any regularity, and he coached down at the Annex, the boxing gym, so few of the old guys would see him. I was their connection to this younger crew. And many of the older guys like Junie liked having this younger crew around.
Junie was one boy of 14 brothers and sisters. I would always bump into people that knew him for he was related to about a third of Saint Louis. Junie always like to talk with me. He would give me encouragement on what I was doing. He was just pleasant to me in general. He was funny. He would bust your chops in a fun way.I just stopped bartending the SBAC Bingo shift every fourth Sunday, and about two weeks ago I put in my last Sunday at the club. The guys sort of sit around the table towards the end of the night. They are done counting the money, flagging, calling, selling pull tabs and even selling pop corn. They sit around and drink beer and chat. The guys were talking about the story in the paper about my last fights on the Hill. Junie pointed out to me as I was wiping down the bar that I he sponsored me as a member. I had forgotten about this. I always was chummy about Junie, but I just didn't put it together. I never thought about what that meant. I had been coming into the SBAC off and on since I was 18. First coming to see the wrestling. Then to see boxing. Then to get a drink.
Then one day I came in with a video of when I boxed in the backyard against Peter Neukirch. We were having so much fun. Pete had been training up in Chicago at Windy City and I had also been training under the guidance of professional Dave Gamble. We knocked hard that day. Good fun. I had a video tape of it and I figured that the old guys who hung out at the bar over at the SBAC would get a kick. I would often buy tickets to the boxing and the wrestling over at the SBAC bar already, so I threw in the tape. The guys loved it. The next time I was there they were sure to recruit me to become a member. Junie would call me over and tell me of what the club was all about. He wanted me to join. All the old guys did.
I wound up entering the club just a few weeks later. The club itself has been a mixed run, and quite the experience. Junie sort of kept up with me. Every few months we would chat about things around the club. The neighborhood. I found that fascinating. He grew up in such a large family. He would tell me stories. When Junie was a kid he didn't know he was poor. Everyone was poor. When you got in a fight you would have to take off your shoes and your shirt, because if you ripped it you didn't have another set to wear. His mother also took care of about another twenty or so kids on top of her own. She really took care of her neighborhood. He lived all the way up near Chouteau, by Saint Raymond's. Junie thought he was Syrian when he was a kid, because he grew up with all the people from the Syrian and Lebanese connection. He would call people "Dutch" and rib people for being Irish or an old world term. He would use it as fun endearment, not as any sort of rub.
Junie was buried earlier today. I didn't even know. This sucks. I was just talking to him two weeks ago. I hope to be full of life like he was when I get up to his age.
Junie wanted to know about this new gym I opened up. I could tell that a few were a bit let down that I was focusing on this new venture. They always encouraged me from within the organization. But the organization was failing. Not due to their failures, but due to the creeping rate of progress in dealing with some of the problems at the club. But that is something else. Junie asked about the new gym. Apparently he used to repair the elevator at the Panda Paint Building. He was still able to describe it to a tee. He pretty much worked on all of the elevators in Saint Louis at one time or another. And that elevator in the Panda was old- something like 80 years old. Interesting how many times people's paths cross over time and we never know it. All during the conversation he would smile and crack jokes at passing members.
He mentioned how lucky he was to have so much family. The grandkids. And he was expecting great grandkids. He had a wonderful and supportive family. It sounded great. I hope to live a life as he had.
RIP Emmit Garth "Junie"