Jaaskelainen fought hard in ‘Roaring ‘20’s’

AHMEEK – Paddy Jaaskelainen wasn’t the biggest boxer who made the sport popular in the Copper Country many decades ago.

But the late Ahmeek native might have been the toughest pound-for-pound fighter back in those days.

Jaaskelainen, who went by the boxing name of Paddy Jaaske, often fought opponents who outweighed him. He tipped the scales at approximately 130 pounds in his ring days.

“He (Jaaskelainen) wasn’t afraid to tackle anyone,” said the late Ike Forsberg, one of the top middeweight boxers of the era. “He gave back as much … as he took.”

The era of the so-called “Roaring Twenties” was likely the most colorful in the history of this nation.

National sports figures like Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, Red Grange of the Chicago Bears and heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey were making headlines.

But the Copper Country had plenty of sports heroes in its own right.

Laurium native George Gipp was setting football records at Notre Dame; William “Dolly” Gray of Houghton had pitched for the Washington Senators; and the Portage Lake and Calumet senior hockey teams were winning national hockey titles with stars like Fred “Cyclone” Taylor, Riley Hern and John “Doc” Gibson.

Boxing was big locally. A 1927 promotion at the Calumet Armory featured Dempsey himself as the referee for the matches.

Calumet, at the time, was one of the largest cities in Michigan with roughly 70,000 residents. It was said to have as many bars as churches, with a reputation as a tough mining town.

Paddy, who represented the Calumet Athletic Club, was on the card where Dempsey appeared along with local favorites “Dapper” Dinty Erkkila, Donald “Midnight” Malila, Francis Cuff and Forsberg.

Jaaske and Cuff were familiar foes, meeting a few times.

A local sportswriter of the era described their matches as “knockdown, slugging displays.”

Jaaske’s manager was Cliff Schieberl, a noted promoter/manager. Schieberl had tutored such well-known boxers as Stanley Ketchell, Billy Strong and Mike Dundee.

Ketchell, a Grand Rapids product, went 12 rounds with legendary heavyweight champ Jack Johnson, even knocking him down once before losing.

Schieberl had high hopes for Jaaskelainen, who possessed a “hefty wallop” for a junior lightweight.

“He (Jaaske) has a lightning left jab and he’s game to the core,” Schieberl told local newspapers.

Cuff, in partcular, found out about the Jaaske’s punching power. Early in a bout at the Calumet Armory in 1926, he was holding his own when a right hand knocked him down for the count.

The referee, however, ruled he had counted out Cuff improperly, and permitted the fight to resume. Jaaske went on to win a unanimous decision.

After putting together a fine record and gaining mention in the Chicago-based Collyer’s Eye and World sports publication, the promising young boxer appeared headed places in the pro circles.

But the Great Depression arrived in 1929. Jaaskelainen’s boxing career – like many others – was put on hold not long afterward.

By the time things got better in 1940, his boxing days were pretty much over. He did box a few times afterward but those were essentially exhibitions.

Boxing, despite a couple of comeback attempts in the 1950s, never did regain its former status in the Copper Country.

Jaaskelainen and his wife began raising a family and he later operated a soft drink bottling business in Ahmeek for many years.

He also purchased the Mendota Light Station at an auction from the U.S. Coast Guard. He restored it and used it as a camp until his death in 1996.

But whenever the subject of boxing in the Copper Country, Paddy Jaske’s name is usually brought up.