Sam Leever was known as "The Goshen Schoolmaster," for his rather older appearance and serious disposition, as well as his pre-baseball career as a teacher in his home town. Leever relied on his exceptional curveball and control to compile a record of 194-100, for a .660 winning percentage, the ninth highest in baseball history. In an era when pitchers were listed in the newspapers each week according to their winning percentages, the oft-injured right-hander was the National League's leading pitcher in 1901, 1903, and 1905.
Samuel Leever was born on December 23, 1871, on a farm in Goshen, Ohio, about twenty miles northeast of Cincinnati. After graduating from Goshen High School, Leever taught there for seven years before he signed his first baseball contract at the advanced age of 25. His first professional season was 1897 with Richmond (Atlantic League), where he won 20 games and led the league in strikeouts.
Pittsburgh purchased his contract for 1898 but, when he reported with a sore arm, the club sent him back to Richmond, where he won 14 more games and helped lead his team to the league championship. His success earned him a recall to Pittsburgh for the tail end of the season, and he won his only decision. As an 1899 rookie, Leever pitched in a league-leading 51 games and 379 innings, and compiled a record of 21-23. Manager Patsy Donovan not only let him complete 35 games, Leever also led the league by finishing 11 games for other pitchers.
During the years 1900-1902, Leever won 44 and lost 25 games, and in 1901 lead the league in winning percentage (.737). 1903 was Leever's greatest season, compiling a 25-7 record including seven shutouts and a league-leading 2.06 ERA.
Late in the 1903 season, Leever hurt his right shoulder in a trap shooting contest in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Leever was an avid and accomplished trap shooter his entire life, but his injury dearly cost the Pirates in the 1903 World Series. The Pirates fell to the upstart Bostons, in large part because of Leever's inability to pitch effectively.
When Sam reported to camp the following spring, he was not yet completely recovered from his injury. After winning eighteen games in 1904, Leever finished 20-5, then 22-7 the next two seasons, leading the league in winning percentage in 1905. Dogged by a sore arm that caused him to miss his turn in the rotation, Leever fell off to 14 wins in 1907, although he still had a career-best 1.66 ERA. By 1908 (15-7), he was pitching in relief half of the time. In his last two years with the Pirates, Leever pitched almost exclusively in relief, winning 14 and losing 6. Prior to the 1911 season, the 38-year-old part-time pitcher was disappointed in the Pirates' tendered salary terms and refused to report to training camp. Barney Dreyfuss offered to sell Leever to a minor league team and to give him a share of the sale, but this only insulted Leever more, so he requested and received his release.
In 1913, after a year out of baseball, he was enticed to manage the independent minor league team in Covington with the Federal League. After that 1913 season, he hung up his uniform for good.
Sam Leever and his wife Margaret did not have any children. He retired to a seventy-acre farm back in Goshen, acquired with money he saved from his years in baseball. He also continued to teach school for many years. Leever was the postmaster in Goshen for two terms, and became one of the town's leading citizens. He also maintained his passion for trap shooting, scoring of 99 out of 100 as late as age 71. Leever was an avid outdoorsman, and went on many long hunting trips during and after his baseball career, often with his former teammates Deacon Philippe and Honus Wagner. He eventually retired from farming and he and Margaret moved into her family's old place nearer to town. Leever often attended ballgames in town, but he would rarely offer advice or talk much about his own great career. He died at home at age 81 on May 19, 1953. Leever is buried in Goshen Cemetery and his grave is a fascinating stop on the annual Goshen Twp Historical Society Cemetery Tour.
NOTE: An earlier version of this biography appeared in Tom Simon, ed., Deadball Stars of the National League (Washington, D. C.: Brassey's Inc., 2004).
John James Voll was born May 3, 1922 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the oldest of 5 children. John later moved to Goshen where he and his siblings all attended school. John graduated in 1940. John enlisted in the Air Corps Reserve on August 5, 1942, and finally began Aviation Cadet training on March 8, 1943. Also in 1943, John entered Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio. The 1943 edition of the Miami Recensio includes pictures of John on the Miami freshman football team.
He graduated from pilot training on Jan. 7, 1944 and joined the 308th FS, 31st FG in May of 1944. His first mission was a bomber escort over Italy. He flew Mustangs with the 308th FS of the 31st Fighter Group, 15th Air Force. John Voll was the third highest scoring Mustang ace of the war and the top U.S.A.A.F. ace of the Mediteranean Theater of Operations with 21 victories.
On August 17, 1944, while escorting B-24s on a bombing mission against the Ploesti oil refineries, a squadron mate of then Lieutenant Voll was forced to bail out near the Danube River. After covering his friend until he safely reached the ground, Voll pulled away from the crash site and spotted three ME-109s. The fierce air battle that ensued became "sweet revenge" for Lieutenant Voll. With a tally of two enemy fighters destroyed and one probable, he more than evened the score for his downed friend.
Eventually flying a P-51D named "American Beauty," Voll's final victories occurred during a spectacular, individual effort. While leading an escort mission to Munich on 16 November 1944, Captain Voll experienced electrical problems and left the formation. As he returned alone, he spotted a single Ju-88 over Udine, Italy. Chasing the German aircraft as it attempted to return to its base, Voll was suddenly jumped by 12 Me-109s and FW-190s. He quickly dispatched the Ju-88 and turned into the enemy fighters. In a swirling, 5-minute battle, John Voll destroyed two FW-190s, one Me-109, had two probables, and two damaged… an impressive feat of courage and stamina.
After leaving the MTO, Captain Voll was sent to China as a headquarters staff officer in the Chinese-American Composite Wing. When the war ended, Voll was discharged from the military.
After the war, Voll returned to Goshen and became the high school science teacher at his alma mater. He taught two years before being recalled to active duty in 1948. He continued his military service primarily in the Tactical Air Command, but he also served in the Korean War, and in 1968 he was the Chief of Tactical Plans for the Seventh Air Force in Vietnam. Voll was instrumental in implementing "Operation Rolling Thunder" in Vietnam. Colonel Voll was the Base Commander of McClellan AFB, California, when he retired in 1974. John and his wife Joan, who was from Blanchester Ohio, had 2 children. After retiring, they lived in Lexington, Massachusetts. John died on September 12, 1987, age 65, and is buried at the Massachusetts Veterans Administration National Cemetery.
What Happened to the American Beauty, AKA the Lovely Lila?
American Beauty was built as a P-51D - 25NA Mustang in California in 1944. She wore the name American Beauty on her left side (pilot’s license) and Lovely Lila on her right (crew chief’s license). Upon leaving the American military service, she was transferred to the Bolivian Air Force, where she served as a front line fighter. In the late 1960's she was sent to Sarasota, Florida for a complete overhaul and upgrade package, then returned to the Bolivian service in 1968.
After an uneventful peacekeeping career, the aircraft was owned by private individuals in Canada and the US for 20 years until she was purchased by Gardner Capital in 1998. She was then disassembled and a underwent a complete restoration by Fort Wayne Air Service in Fort Wayne, IN. After approximately three years and thousands of man hours, the Mustang P51 "American Beauty" was restored to flying condition as a tribute to John Voll and the entire 31st Fighter Group. She wears the authentic paint scheme of the 308th Fighter Squadron and Fifteenth Air Force, featuring the red spinner, narrow red nose band, and red peppermint striped tail which made the Mustangs so distinctive.
Kathryn (nee Stagge) Marr was the only child of Herman Bernard Stagge and Margaret C. Stagge of Goshen, Ohio. She was born September 2, 1918 in the "Samuel Meek House" located at 1838 Main Street, Goshen, Ohio. This home now bears a plaque erected by the Goshen Twp Historical Society honoring Kathryn’s birthplace.
When Kathryn was almost 1 year old, her parents moved from the Meek House to a farm on Goshen Road, now the site of the Stagge-Marr Community Park. The 82 acre farm remained in the family until it was willed by Kathryn in 2008 to the Goshen Park District.
As a student, Kathryn was a member of the Goshen Boosters 4-H club, president of her 9th grade class, a member of the 1935-1936 girls basketball team, girls' glee club, had a role in her senior class play ("Dr. Jim"), was a member of the art club, 1934 associate editor of the "Goshen Booster" newspaper, and member of the "Goshenesis" staff. She also represented Goshen in the County Scholarship tests in American History, and was known as "the girl with the dreamy eyes." Kathryn graduated from Goshen High School in 1936, then attended Miami University in Oxford Ohio on scholarship.
In 1938 she returned to Goshen to departmentalize socials studies for the 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. She continued her education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of Cincinnati and Eastern State Teacher's College. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Education from Miami University and her Master's of Education degree from Xavier University. Most of her classroom teaching in the 1940’s and early 1950’s was devoted to the fifth grade. An excellent classroom teacher, Kathryn was honored as Ohio's Teacher of the Year in 1956 by McCall’s magazine. Kathryn was one of seven "finalists" who attended a White House ceremony honoring Teachers of the Year.
Kathryn married Lawrence "Larry" Marr, also a 1936 Goshen High graduate, and a WWII Army vet who served in the South Pacific. They made their first home in Morrow, Ohio and Larry became a farmer. In 1950 they moved to their farm on Nunner Road in Maineville, Ohio, now the site of Marr Park.
In the school year of 1954-1955, Kathryn became the Coordinator of the "new" Goshen Elementary building. The following year her title was changed to Principal and she held the position until her retirement on June 30, 1976. On August 17, 1976, the Goshen Board of Education voted to honor Kathryn for her hard work and dedication to Goshen schools by changing the name of Goshen Elementary to Marr Elementary. In 2003, Marr Elementary was physically joined to Cook Elementary and became Marr-Cook Elementary.
Kathryn was a founding member of the Goshen Township Historical Society. She was quietly generous within the community, supporting the Goshen Alumni Association and other civic groups on the condition her gifts remain anonymous. After the death of her lifelong friend and fellow educator Aurelia Cook, Kathryn attended the estate auction and bought some of the furnishings that had been in the Cook family for generations. She gave these treasures to the Goshen Township Historical Society for display at the Anchorage. Kathryn also donated an organ to St. Phillip’s Church in Warren County. Her personal estate left funds to Goshen Schools, Goshen Park District, Goshen Alumni Association and other community groups.
Kathryn and Larry had no children of their own, but they clearly "adopted" the community of Goshen. Her love for this community and her inherent generosity has impacted thousands of people for almost 100 years and will continue to do so for generations to come.
On Apr. 2, 1975, at halftime of an ABA game between the Utah Stars and the Indiana Pacers, an Alaskan brown bear came out onto the court to wrestle some people and entertain the Indiana crowd. The creature's name was Victor—or, rather, Victor the Wrestling Bear.
Chet Coppock, the sports director at local CBS affiliate WISH-TV, was Victor's opponent that night. He wanted to give the interspecies bout more juice, so he came onto the court in a wrestling outfit pro wrestler Dick the Bruiser had given him, with a pair of Flash Gordon-esque "slave girls" at his side to emphasize his role as the heel. Victor, sporting a weight advantage of at least a quarter-ton, won easily. The crowd loved it.
Victor was rarely unsuccessful in wrestling. He was de-clawed, de-fanged, fitted with a muzzle and drugged, but he could still throw down anyone who stood before him, and he knew a few professional moves to boot. Victor was often listed as being eight feet tall and 650 pounds wide, although those figures varied greatly over the years. However much he weighed, it was more than enough to make him an unbeatable wrestling opponent. Most of his matches barely lasted a minute, and when he finished, Victor would race over to his owner, Tuffy Truesdell, and receive a fresh bottle of Coke, which he would inhale in a manner of seconds.
Victor's gift was not kept hidden from the public. Truesdell drove across the country, displaying him at sports shows and county fairs and asking crowds if anyone wanted to tangle with him. If no one wanted to get in the ring with Victor, Truesdell would wrestle the bear himself; if there was a volunteer, Truesdell would serve as the referee. Of course, anyone who challenged the behemoth first had to sign a waiver that Truesdell could not be held legally responsible for what happened. As noted in Sports Illustrated's piece on Victor: "It costs Tuffy about 5% of his gross to obtain various types of insurance, but it is financially impossible for him to afford the premiums he would have to pay to actually insure the people who choose to climb into the ring and take on Victor. You wrestle him at your own risk."
You might think that would have been enough of a disincentive, but the bear wrestled thousands—possibly tens of thousands—of people from the time he was born in the early '60's. Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, who appeared with Victor in the movie Paint Your Wagon, allegedly did it; so too did then-Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford ("he pinned me in about eight seconds"); there was NFL coach Rod Marinelli and football players Dick Butkus, Jim LeClair, and Vince Papale, who walked away from his match with six stitches ("That was probably the most stupid thing I've done"), and wrestlers, including Rowdy Roddy Piper.
The record Victor amassed over the course of his career was probably quite impressive, though no one will ever know what it actually was, as the one offered by Truesdell was apocryphal and changed radically over the years. In truth, Victor met defeat a handful of times, but those victories were either disregarded by Truesdell or outright invalidated. If Truesdell was protective of Victor's record, it was because he depended on the bear to make a living, and an undefeated force of nature, a creature so dominant that no human could ever dream of bringing down, is an easier attraction to sell than a bear that only wins most of the time.
Truesdell, from Goshen, Ohio, knew a thing or two about wrestling. He earned the nickname "Tuffy" when, at age 6, he overwhelmed a bully who was picking on him. In Frank Deford's 1970 article, he noted that Truesdell despised his real first name, Adolphus. He went on to become a middleweight belt holder. Eventually, Truesdell discovered that it was more lucrative for him to wrestle animals than other human beings, so he wrangled some four-legged opponents to take on the road with him including alligators. Long before he entered the bear racket, Truesdell dabbled in wrestling that was even more dangerous. He decided to give up that living after a particularly nasty run-in with "Rodney the Wrestling Alligator," who left him with 40 stitches. He shifted his attention to bears and scooped up an orphaned bear in northern Ontario. Named Victor, he became one of the family, and when he was big enough to wrestle, Truesdell took him on the road. Eventually, the bear got more famous than Truesdell, so he decided to stock up on bears, raising and training them on a farm he purchased in Pleasant Plain, Ohio. He even stocked up on the number of “Victors” he had, and it's at this point that the linear narrative of Victor the Bear gets a bit complicated. Victor was really two or three bears—at least. The first Victor died of a heart attack at the age of 17, in the mid-'70's. "We almost left the business then," Truesdell's wife Lee recalled to the Sylva Herald & Ruralite in 1985. "Tuffy was so hurt by Victor's death." Even so, they stayed in the business. Victor II assumed his predecessor's namesake and kept the act alive, improbable win-loss record and all.
Victor the Bear was wrestling people well into the '80's. But his act didn't age as gracefully as he did. Society was becoming more sympathetic to animals, and more concerned about their living conditions. People were now looking at Victor, with his muzzle and his removed fangs and his removed claws, and wondering if the bear was actually living a good life. Sue Pressman, a director at the Humane Society of the United States, stated in 1981 that Victor was "being exploited in the most obnoxious way possible." 1981 was a bad year for Victor the Wrestling Bear. After thousands and thousands of matches with nary a single serious injury, two finally occurred within a few weeks of each other. A 24-year-old came away with a fractured ankle and damaged cartilage and ligaments after Victor started wailing on him for no explicable reason. And then there was the more serious incident. In September, an Army corporal by the name of Charles G. Smith was wrestling Victor when his left hand managed to slip inside Victor's muzzle. The bear chomped down with his back teeth and bit most of his left pinky finger clean off. Smith sued Truesdell and won; Truesdell didn't even show up to court. Victor lost his wrestling license in Virginia, several venues turned him away when a request was made to accommodate him, and protesters picketed against his treatment, but because Victor wasn't being physically mistreated, and because the people he was wrestling were volunteers, the federal government claimed it lacked the legal authority to end his wrestling career. It was just as well, since Victor's career didn't last much longer anyway.
Tuffy Truesdell died at the age of 84 on Mar. 30, 2001. His tombstone is emblazoned with the image of a smiling bear. These days Victor and Tuffy are little more than a nostalgic memory. Maybe humans shouldn't be in the business of making grizzly bears wrestle other humans. As awful as it was that Victor bit off an Army corporal's finger, it did serve as a reminder that Victor, as docile as he was, was still a wild animal. A wild animal that was really good at wrestling people.
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