On December 2, 1970, eight men got together for an informal meeting at the Elyria Chamber of Commerce on Second Street in downtown Elyria to discuss the possibility of forming an organization to honor the City’s sporting heroes. The eight – A.N. “Chick” Smith, Russ Doan, Bob Guinta, Russ Davies, Jerry Rombach, Worth Fauver, Jr., Dick Elliott and Milan Bendik – agreed Elyria’s sports history was worth the effort.
On February 3, 1971, a dedicated group of 35 of Elyria’s civic, business, fraternal and educational leaders met at the Chronicle-Telegram for the first time to officially adopt its criteria and by-laws for selecting honored personalities and teams that historically made an impact on the local sports scene.
A.N. “Chick” Smith, then the Ohio Conference Commissioner, served as the board’s first chairman, serving until the first induction. Doan, at the time Elyria School’s athletic director and still an active member of the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame board, was named co-chair and treasurer. Elliot was the general manager of the Elyria Chamber of Commerce and became the secretary. Fauver, Jr., Davies, Bendik, Guinta, Rombach, along with John Howard formed the first nine-member executive committee. The remaining members of that first board were George Day, Elmer Zoltai, Les Drage, Jack Ryba, Chuck Clark, Chuck Hoagland, Robert Lloyd, Dr. Robert Stevenson, William Standen, Byron Morris, Dr. Robert Perry, Paul Nakel, Roy West, Gus Gleason, Jack Zagrans, Thurman Taylor, Bill Barton, Felix Klimczak, Jim Corcoran, Dwight “Ike” Truby, Robert Buol, Ralph Fobes, Dale Reichenbach, Art Waters, Robert Oldfield and Bob Gollmar.
It was decided at that meeting that the board would meet once a month to plan the banquet, finances and the number of persons to be selected and how often the banquets should be held. The next meeting was set for April 14 with the board meeting regularly the second Wednesday of each month. The Trustees now meet on the last Monday of each month from September through May — except for December.
The board decided that its own membership would be eligible for election but would be excluded from any debate and voting rights when their own names were considered. Those eligible for induction must have a basic connection with Elyria, but not necessarily with the schools or as an athlete. The main factor for consideration is that he or she is generally considered by the public to have great fame in the Elyria area for their connection with sports.
The general public was invited to make the nominations and the first such selections were accepted early in 1972. It was decided that a Board Sub-committee would screen the nominations to be voted on by the entire group.
The screening committee went over the nominees and presented a list of 10 finalists for the first enshrinement banquet. The board then voted by secret ballot and selected the first class to be honored.
Clark was named to head the banquet committee, West directed the candidate and screening committee, Barton and Zoltai were in charge of the awards, Glavas the finances, Dr. Perry was in charge of the program, Standen welcomed the enshrinees and conducted a fund-raising party scheduled for the following January. Rombach handled the publicity through his job as the sports editor of the Chronicle-Telegram. C-T artist Bob Lynch did the art work for the program.
Primary financing for the first banquet was made possible by having nearly 250 Elyria citizens become members of the first charter Hall of Fame Society by buying shares in the corporation and signing the Charter Scroll at $10 each.
On Thursday May 18, 1972, at the old Weathervane on Oberlin Road, the first banquet was held. On that date, the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame became a reality. The Banquet has been held at several venues over the years.
The first class inducted was headed by Vic Janowicz, the 1950 Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, who led Elyria High to its first undefeated football season in 1947. Joining Janowicz on that first class was Joe Scott, Jack Ambrose, Walt Rock, and Smith, the chairman.
Arthur Hudnutt, then President of the Chronicle-Telegram, served as the Master of Ceremonies, a position he held for many, many years for the Hall of Fame. Henry Lymon was the organist and the Rev. Dr. Peter Mealwitz, Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church at that time, gave the invocation and the benediction. Nick Mileti, President of the Cleveland Indians, the Barons and the Cavaliers at that time, was the featured speaker. Ron Penfound, better known as Captain Penny from WEWS in Cleveland, presented the enshrinees. Doan and Smith presented special awards. The tradition was started and still going strong 40 plus years later. It remains one of the premier events for the City of Elyria.
The board has held its monthly meetings in a number of venues and presently conducts its business at the renovated Washington Building at Elyria High School. The past several banquets have been held at the Spitzer Conference Center on the campus of Lorain County Community College.