History of JCHALSF

Tiny Club Rallies For Hometown Hero
Written for the Foundation Kick Off in 1999

By: Chris Pugh

 

Old Timer's Day - ALS Foundation Kick Off
Right to Left - Tommy John, Mike Hershberger, Sal Bando, Jim Pagliaroni

It is a tiny Ruritan club with a big name and a bigger heart.

He is a hometown hero facing the toughest opponent of his life.

He turned to them in his need and they never turned away.  The Bear Swamp-Beech Springs (NC) club is only 14 members strong, but the fund-raising effort they started reverberated, literally, from New York to California and beyond.

To them he has always been just Jimmy-though the rest of the world knows him by the name that in the 1960s had a woodsy, Southern appeal on the pitcher’s mound-Catfish.

Jim Hunter of Hertford, N.C. became “Catfish” when professional baseball owner Charlie Finley thought he needed a flashy handle.  The people back home in Hertford knew a name wouldn’t change Jim.  And it never did.

Today, Hunter is back in Herford, retired from baseball, raising his family and running his farm producing cotton and peanuts, corn and beans.  And, as if a record breaking career in major league baseball wasn’t enough, Jim Hunter is facing another challenge, one more profound than any before it.  He is fighting a disease best known for one of its early victims, also a baseball hero.  He has “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” more accurately known as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

The disease has robbed Hunter of the use of his arms-arms that put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  But Hunter is far from giving up.  Indeed, his fight against ALS was what his appeal to the Bear Swamp-Beech Spring Ruritans was all about. He asked them to help him raise money to start a Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Foundation for research-for a cure for the disease that has him down but not out.  And the club  responded without hesitation.

On May 8 the club, with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers and the help of 25 other Ruritan clubs in the Albemarle District kicked off the Hunter Foundation with an effort that brought in an incredible $78,000.  And that was just the first day.  Money continues to pour in from around the country as news of the foundation spreads.  The day began with a Prayer Breakfast featuring Oakland A’s catcher Jim Pagliaronia, who caught Hunter’s perfect game in 1968 against the Minnesota Twins.

 

The kick off event centered around the sale of 5,500 chicken dinners. The chicken halves were cooked by Ruritans from all over eastern North Carolina on 48 huge grills starting at 3 a.m.  Tickets for the dinners were sold well in advance and as lunchtime approached a steady stream of cars, trucks, and vans rolled through the impromptu drive through pick-up lane set up Perquimans County High School-Hunter’s alma mater.

Others chose to park their cars and join the festivities on the baseball diamond behind the school, including a homerun derby, shirt and cap sales, and a silent auction featuring everything from Dolly Parton’s boots to a baseball signed by Hunter himself.

Hunter was on hand for an autograph session in the afternoon as were other baseball legends who had come to pay tribute to him: Sal Bando, Alvin Dark, Ron Davis, Mike Hershburger, Jim Spencer, Gaylord Perry, Tommy John, and Pagliaronia.

Those same legends joined Hunter on the field for a ceremony before an annual Old Timer’s game.
As the bright sun sank lower in the western sky, the stands were packed tightly with fans waiting to pay tribute to their friend and neighbor.

Bear Swamp-Beech Spring’s President Ed Nixon hosted and the ceremony and introduced Rick Poff, 1999 Ruritan National President, who was the first of many that evening to call Hunter a “hero.” Poff also congratulated Hunter for the example he sets for America’s youth-an example needed more than ever in troubled times.

Before the ceremony was over, Bear Swamp-Beech Spring Treasurer Tommy Harrell came to the microphone to announce that his phone had been ringing off the hook with pledges from the East and West Coasts as the formation of the Hunter Foundation was announced at ball games in Oakland and at Yankee Stadium.

It was a great day and a great story, a story with all the elements of a classic.  There was a hero in distress.  There was a villainous disease.  A tiny but determined band of workers rose up to aid the hero.  The story included victory-thousands of dollars raised to fight the dreaded disease.

And when the medical research funded by the foundation finds a cure for ALS, the story will finally have a happy ending.

The National Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Registry — www.cdc.gov/als — (800) 232-4637