In 1932, seventy three years ago as this is written, a small group of former athletes would occasionally get together for lunch, usually at the Engineer’s Club on Monument Street in Dayton, to do pretty much the same things Agonis Club members do today. They needled one another and swapped stories laced with imagination and a politically incorrect form of humor. They sometimes left lunch confused as to when and even where their next luncheon meeting would be held. Within a year those founders of the Agonis Club reduced confusion by agreeing to meet at the same time and place each week. Thus the first goal of club membership was met: Agonians new where to go to eat lunch. By year end 1933, and by no mere coincidence, whiskey and beer resumed legal distribution in the United States.
These pioneers included F.B. McNabb, Carl Storck, Ward Cromer, Hack Abbott, Jack Moore and Jack Brown. Maybe a few others as well. A half century later Jack Brown recalled, “originally, to be a member of Agonis one had to be an athletic letter winner in college and know someone in the club. Eventually 10 of us met at the old Gibbons Hotel and each was asked to bring a friend. I brought a bicycle racer, Henry Malloy, and soon a cousin of mine, Herb Eikenbary. After three to four meetings we had 25 members and we held to that number for about 20 years.”1
That cousin of Brown’s, Herb Eikenbary, deserves special mention because his personality colored the first forty years of Agonis Club history. Law historian David Greer calls Eikenbary the most notable figure in the history of the Dayton Bar Association, and he was also one of just 20 students to graduate in the University of Dayton’s first law school class in 1926. His yearbook described him as having “an inexhaustible supply of wit and humor.”
Greer’s tribute to Eikenbary calls this influential club member, “The Knight of the Broken Mold” and “a Churchillesque figure who was more a great person than a great lawyer.” Herb treasured a loving cup given to him by the grateful clients of a local bawdy house which he represented successfully in court. When that firm lost its proprietress/madam a few years later Mr. Eikenbary’s memorial address noted that, “thousands mourned her loss, but few attended her funeral.”
The photograph below was taken in the late 1940's at a dinner meeting honoring Arch Ward. Arch, a promoter and one time sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, was a founder of the major league baseball All-Star Game in 1933, the Chicago College All-Star Football Game in 1934, and the All America Conference in 1946. In the photo below, Counselor Eikenbary is shown in bow tie and top hat, resting upon his knee in the front row. Huston Brown, Jack’s brother, is the guitar player alongside Eikenbary and the two were major contributors to a club tradition of producing some theatrical follies as an appetizer for the meetings and speaker introductions. (It is not true that Agonis introduced cross-dressing, although they did make it more popular).
Agonis luncheon meetings have been held in many locations over the years. McShane’s Bar and Grill hosted meetings in the late forties. The Gibbons, (A.K.A. The Miami) in the fifties, Suttmiller’s then dominated for decades followed by the Holiday Inn and then the UD Arena Lounge; most recently the Presidential Banquet Center has hosted Agonis.
If, as noted above, club officers have to develop thick hides, the average guest speaker needs combat-strength armor plate. Agonis lore delights in the memory of A.B. (Happy) Chandler running grouchily from the rostrum. Then there was Dave Cowens who gave us a moon shot, but the top shelf still goes to guests like Bob Huggins, Pete Rose and Bob Knight who took full advantage of the fact that they spoke last. When it came to fun, and a surprising side revealed, most old time Agonians list Woody Hayes first and Bill Veeck second. But all odds-makers are asked for a dark horse and that would probably be Herman Hickman, All-American lineman from Tennessee in the 1920s, later a coach at West Point and Yale. He is pictured at an Agonis meeting in the early 1950s with, (L to R) Huston Brown, Rollie Bevan (conditioning coach for Red Blaik at Army), Stu Holcomb, (Purdue AD), Dave Reese and Joe Gavin, (UD Football).
Soon, a constitution, by-laws and membership rosters came to be published. By the late forties Agonis had close to 100 members and that number has continued to grow in recent years when the count stabilized at 175 to 200 total members. Our prices for lunch have mushroomed up from two bits but have not grown as fast as the number of sports notables who have been Agonis speakers.
First, membership. Our rosters have and do include NFL players, referees, and (back when) a coach: Sid Gilman. We’ve had Big Ten, Mid Am and even Ivy League (Agonis) players. The Cincinnati Reds have contributed baseballers and the old NBA Royals a basketballer or two. But the winning edge in membership talent and interest must go to the University of Dayton basketball program. UD’s teams of the early fifties provided the club with dues payers, office holders, and speaker solicitation. From that era Agonis owes much to Blackburn, Bockhorn, Boyle, Donoher, Frericks, Meineke and Norris and the good times that first rolled from Madison Square Garden and the Kentucky Invitational have carried forth to NCAA tournaments and today the renovated UD Arena.6
Next, leadership. Much of the vitality of the Agonis Club can be traced to the practice of past presidents remaining in an active leadership role beyond the single one year term as president mandated by the club constitution. All former Agonis presidents meet as a group at least three times a year to offer advice to the current officers, review the applications of new members and receive current statements of condition. By the time their elected duties are discharged these veterans have seen more needles inserted than has a career-end tattoo artist in Southern California. So they expect current office holders to be able to take it.
Shown below are sixteen club presidents gathered at the Hotel Gibbons in downtown Dayton around 1960.
A night meeting to remember. Miami University A. D. John Brickels Testimonial February 22, 1960. Left to right
Ara Parsegian, Lou Groza, Otto Graham, Weeb Ewbank, featured speaker Cy Laughter, Si Burick, Brickels, Eddie
Finnegan, and Bill Edwards at the Miami Hotel Ballroom in Dayton.
Dayton’s first two Hall of Fame sportswriters, Si Burick and Ritter Collett were active in the club for many decades and Hal McCoy, our latest Cooperstown scribe, has helped at dozens of recent club gatherings. It should be noted, however, that an Agonis guest is not a newsman’s interview opportunity. Any speaker statement is a confidential communication.
Beginning in 1954, the Agonis Club has put raucous fun aside for one evening meeting a year and turned, fighting to hold our balance, toward the respectable. The club’s annual awards ceremony honors five notable achievers from five subdivisions of the Dayton athletic scene.
One local high school athlete receives an award commemorating Beno Keiter/Russ Guerra’s memory. Both were local law enforcement officials who served Agonis as club presidents.
A UD athlete receives an award named for two deceased members who gave much to UD athletics, Joe Quinn and Joe Gavin.
The David Reese memorial award goes to a deserving Wright State athlete each year.
Dave Hall, former Mayor of Dayton, is remembered when we honor an outstanding Dayton athlete performing at an out of town school.
Our final honoree is a local coach receiving an award named for coaches Don Donaher and Mike Kelly.
Perhaps the most significant part of this spring evening is the way it reminds today’s membership and their guests of those who came before them. Not just playing performance but reminders of where the fun was as well. Keiter, Quinn, Guerra, Hall and Reese played their share of games, but they are much more fondly remembered for their good time companionship after the games were done. .
Front row – Lou Tschudi, Homer Snyder (Homebrew), Herb Eikenbary, Huston Brown.
Back row – Chet Eichenlaub, Dr. Bob Gowdy, Lon Mahrt, Whitey Winger, Charlie Evans, Gale Murphy,
Lonnie Allford, Charlie Stonebarger, Vern Tumbusch.
Follies have always been an important quality of Agonis meetings but never more so than those early years when laughs were scarce and breadlines plentiful. Throughout the Great Depression those 25 or so members provided not only laughs but local and even national contributions outside the club. The first Agonis President in 1933 was Carl Storck who helped found both the Dayton Triangles and then served as a pioneer board member of the NFL as well. Storck, Hack Abbott and Dave Reese were key figures on the 1920 Dayton Triangles and were on our club roster for many early years. Storck served as Commissioner of the entire National Football League from May, 1939 to March, 1941. Reese was a Dayton dentist, a referee for top flight college football games and the first Commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. Jack Brown served the University of Dayton as a part-time ticket manager while running a Dayton bakery full-time.3
In summary, the Agonis Club moved through its first decade or so with the membership content with a relatively small group. Lunch cost two bits and dollars were in short supply. So were men able to share an interest in sport because by 1940 the draft of military personnel had begun. Some self-deprecating humor remained here at home however, because the club name was becoming entrenched in the belief that ‘Agonis’ is related to the agony that torn cartilage and worn tendons impose on older limbs. Agony is after all, something that an Adonis does not experience. There is another explanation for the club name that is whispered only in Oakwood’s dark alleys. The ancient Greeks loved athletic competition of all kinds and their term for all such was ‘agones’. A very small school of thought believes that a club founder understood the Greek language but was not a skillful speller.4
Here in the 21st century we no longer get carried away with the Greeks and history so all we need remember is this. In 1932 some good guys were excited talking about Augusta, Georgia building one of the few golf clubs anywhere in the world to have underground sprinklers on every fairway and green. They founded Agonis. Soon prohibition ended.
So now we are ready for the post war Agonis Club when Uncles Sam’s troops came home to a world made much safer for democracy. Now we know more of what we are talking about because some of ‘America’s Greatest Generation’ is still in our active membership: chirping, chiding Ohio State followers and lighting candles for Tom Blackburn.
The Agonis Follies flourished. A favorite routine was to have three club members dress in the jock clothing they wore at an earlier time when their work outs were more strenuous. With shirt fronts bulging these guys would lampoon the “spirit of ‘76” with Huston Brown as flag-bearer in track tights which by 1948 were way too tight. Someone, probably Si Burick, sent a photograph of these three Agonians to Si’s Stivers High School classmate, Milton Caniff. Caniff, at that point America’s most celebrated and wildly-syndicated newspaper cartoonist, sketched the work you see below and sent it back to his grateful friends in Dayton. This art work remains as our club logo and only collateral asset.
President Fred Hess greets Frank Robinson before a night meeting at Suttmillers’s restaurant
in 1967. Frank was the National League’s MVP in 1961 and the American League’s MVP in 1967.
So we have used those members and their history to put these seventy three years in as clear a perspective as we can. Social historians began writing about the American zest for joining clubs way back in the 1830s, about a century before Agonis began. The most common belief is that by welcoming aliens to our shores this country nurtured clubs where the old country could be remembered and even old languages spoken. Over the years ethnic clubs were joined or gave way to religious clubs and more recently social interest clubs. They set one group apart from another. America became more inclusive and its social clubs more exclusive. But the Agonis Club of Dayton has a love of sports, and only that; as the common denominator of membership. There is no fashion or philosophy with which a member must be comfortable. Old publications mention Agonis clubs in several eastern cities as well as Columbus here in Ohio. Only Columbus Agonis survives and their interest is exclusively in Buckeye football. We have grown and achieved a non-profit solvency that makes us unusual and not very trendy. We are proud of that up to the point where we all agree on the good sense involved in having a place to eat a weekly lunch and knowing why you are going there.
If you want some high moral purpose beyond that our history does not offer you much hope. How about inspiration? We do have a time-honored tradition begun a half century ago by a licensed physician and surgeon, M. Tischer Hoerner, one which has helped many Agonians put the cold cares of winter behind. Doctor Hoerner would mount our rostrum on the first meeting in May and intone:
“Tis the first of May. O’ wonderful day
The flowers of spring bloom forth to say
Tis May at last…hooray, hooray,
Outdoor f****** begins today!”
- Final Buzzer -
The Agonis Club Speakers – A Partial List
Baseball: John Allen, Walter Alston, Sparky Anderson, John Bench, Marty Brennaman, Tom Browning, Dean Chance, A.B. (Happy) Chandler, Galen Cisco, Rob Dibble, Jimmy Dykes, Rollie Fingers, George Foster, Ned Garver, Harry Geisel, Larry Goetz, Tommy Harper, Rollie Hemsley, Tommy Henrich, Frank Howard, Waite Hoyt, Fred Hutchinson, Davey Johnson, Tom LaSorda, Frank McCormick, Jack McKeon, Joe Medwick, Dave Miley, Joe Morgan, Joe Nuxhall, Bob Prince, Wally Post, Ted Power, Bob Purkey, Branch Rickey, Frank Robinson, Pete Rose, Phil Seghi, Mike Schmidt, Marge Schott, Claude Sullivan, Bill Veeck and Frank Viola.
Basketball: Red Auerbach, John Bennington, Brad Brownell, Charlie Coles, Dave Cowens, Bobby Cremins, Mick Cronin, Don Donoher, Anthony Grant, Brian Gregory, Dave Grote, Jud Heathcote, Darrell Hedric, Bill Hosket, Bob Huggins, George Hunter, George Ireland, Ed Jucker, George Karl, Gene Keady, Clark Kellogg, Bob Knight, Abe Lemons, Joe Lunardi, Rick Majerus, Don May, Al McGuire, Archie Miller, Eldon Miller, Sean Miller. Bones McKinney, Ray Meyer, Don Nelson, Jim Paxson, John Paxson, Oliver Purnell, Bill Raftery, Oscar Robertson, Adolph Rupp, Dolph Schayes, George Smith, Orlando (Tubby) Smith, Fred Taylor, Jack Twyman, Ralph Underhill, Bill Walton and Pep Wilson.
Football: Martin Bayless, Raymond Berry, Rocky Blier, Charlie Bradshaw, Todd Blackledge, Bobby Bowden, Terry Bowden, Terry Brennan, Earle Bruce, Keith Byars, Jim Breech, Paul Brown, Bear Bryant, Lloyd Carr, Howard (Hopalong) Cassady, Dick Coleman, John Cooper, Mark Dantonio, Duffy Daugherty, Bob DeMoss, Paul Dietzel, Art (Fatso) Donovan, Ray Eliot, Forest Evashevski, Weeb Ewbank, Gerry Faust, David Fulcher, Phillip Fulmer, Randy Gradishar, Archie Griffin, Jon Gruden, Lou Groza, Dan Hampton, A. J. Hawk, Woody Hayes, Bill Hess, Kirk Herbstriet, Lou Holtz, Paul Hornung, Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch, Terry Hoeppner, Sam Huff, Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, Mike Kelly, Jeff Long, Tim Krumrie, Dante Lavelli, Dick LeBeau, Marvin Lewis, Lou Little, Vincent Thomas "Vince" Lombardi, Oliver Luck, Johnny Majors, Bill Mallory, Archie Manning, Glen Mason, Dave Mauer, John McVay, Ray Mears, Harry Mehere, Rick Minter, Art Modell, Dick Modzelewski, Jack Mollenkopf, Shane Montgomery, Joe Morrison, Anthony Munoz, Don Nehlen, Chuck Noll, Tom Osborne, Ara Parsegian, Joe Paterno, Doug Pelfrey, John Pont, Homer Rice, Andy Robustelli, Clive Rush, John Sauer, (Club President in 1962), Bo Schembechler, Don Shula, Gene Smith, Bart Starr, Cliff Stoudt, Chuck Studley, Jock Sutherland, Jim Tressel, Bob Trumpy, Tommy Tuberville, Norman Van Brocklin, Randy Walker, George Wilson, and Tug Wilson.
Footnotes to Dayton Agonis Club History:
1. Much of this early Agonis history was drawn from a Marc Katz article which appeared in the Dayton Journal Herald on October 24, 1983, “Get Out the Needle, at Agonis Club meetings there are no holds barred.”
2. The Herb Eikenbary material appeared in David C. Greer’s fine history of the Dayton Bar Association titled, “The Sluff of History’s Boot Soles,” Orange Free Press, pgs. 314-321.
3. Tony Furst recollections.
4. N.Y. Times, OP-ED, August 9, 2004. “When the Games Were Everything” by Thomas Cahill.
5. Letter from Huston Brown to Tom Hamlin dated May 7, 1992.
6. Membership rosters supplied by Fred Hess as well as “Sports in Dayton” by Ritter Collett, Landfall Press, pg. 364.
7. All three photographs courtesy of Jimm Horvath.
8. Recollections of Bill Highfill, Agonis President, 1985.
9. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, XIV, 3-4 (King James).
Some delightful story tellers applied their talent to this document and whenever two agreed their tales are treated as fact. That policy made this history much more concise than would otherwise have been the case. Particular contributions of time and the loan of useful material were made by:
Barry Baumgardner, Joe Cogliano, Fred Engler, Tony Furst, Jack Haley, Tom Hamlin, Fred Hess, Jimm Horvath, Joey Kelsey, Ron Lauterbach, Carl McGowan, Jim Newby, Max Peterson, Ben Sproat, Nick Ungard.
Many thanks to these gentlemen, and those who assisted them as well.
1956 - President Chuck Whalen talks with Adolph Rupp, Cy Laughter, and Club Secretary Walter Reese at the Gibbons Hotel.
Honorary Agonis club member Adolph Rupp still holds the record for most keynote speaker appearances at our Awards banquet. The University of Kentucky basketball legend appeared three times and took a high school award winner, Mike Pratt, 1966, back to Lexington with him once. A more complete, but still partial list of speakers at Award dinners, night meetings and noon lunches is included in Appendix A.
May, 1960 – Hotel Gibbons – Agonis Past Presidents – Year in Parenthesis
Back – Harry Cutler (‘39), Harry Weprin (‘51), Huston Brown (‘45), Don Meineke (‘66), Larry McAfee (‘53), Gene Heywood (‘44), Harold Dodson (‘52), Frank Maloney (‘59) and Herb Eikenbarry (‘54) Front – Beno Keiter (‘60), Neal Zimmers (‘57), Chick August (‘46), Stan Mouse (‘58), Bill Hoyne (‘48), Dave Hall (‘47), and Jack Helmerich (‘43)
The club’s welcome has been extended to the gentler gender on many occasions, most notably in 1985 when Marge Schott was newly-ordained as Cincinnati Red honcho. She spoke to an estimated luncheon audience of 250 at Suttmiller’s. Marge brought her Saint Bernard ‘Schottzie’ and the chance of a lady and a dog ever being invited to eat from separate plates at another Agonis lunch seems remote. Perhaps if we build our own restaurant.
An additional sampling of speakers who have also been a joy includes trackmen Edwin Moses, Jesse Owens and Bob Richards; Fred Taylor, Ray Meyer and Red Auerbach from basketball; footballers Paul Brown, Chuck Noll and Art Donovan and baseball’s Frank Robinson, Frank Howard and Tommy LaSorda.