The place was the McGrath Community Center. The date was Saturday, Feb. 10. The event was one that probably changed lives of all who were there to witness the greatest show in town – wrestling.
McGrath, with its population of 64, has been around since the logging days of the 1800s. It’s a place where men are men, and they have been challenging each other in bouts of strength and cunning for over 100 years.
The “Capable” Kenny “Sodbuster” Jay came into town with Buck “Rock-n-Roll” Zumhofe. Both wrestlers claim to be 29 years old, and, judging by their hearts and energy, who could argue?
These two strapping young-at-heart wrestlers came to McGrath to help raise money for the McGrath Community Center that has felt the squeeze from the cost of fuel this winter.
Sodbusster lives in the McGrath area when he is not at his other home or working in the Twin Cities. “I really like the people here. They are great, and they always treat me like one of the family.”
Wrestling fans may remember Channel 9 wrestling with the announcer Mean Gene. During the show, someone would be yelling into the microphone about ripping someone’s head off while someone else would be flexing their muscles.
Names like Larry “The Axe” Henning, Mad Dog Vaschon, Baron Von Raschke, Vern Gagne, and even Jesse “The Body” were household names back then.
This night in McGrath brought back those fond memories for many in attendance, and even though the program was different, the action and excitement were the same. There was a tag-team from Canada and a wrestler from England, standing tall as the chant “U.S.A., U.S.A.,” filled the gym. And, of course, in grand old American Wrestling Association fashion, the wrestlers from the U.S.A. won.
The crowd was relatively quiet, until one of the Canadians said, “You look like the world’s greatest hillbilly convention.”
On that, the crowd went wild.
As the wrestlers edged them on, yelling, “Shut up,” the crowd responded with loud cheers, and before everyone knew it, they were all having more fun than their ticket prices could have ever given them at a movie or fishing.
Buck “Rock-n-Roll” Zumhofe and Heather “White Feather” Zumhofe, father and daughter, are both involved in professional wrestling. Heather, 19, has been wrestling with her father for a couple years now. She said, “It is something in your blood. I remember, as a kid growing up, my father never took us to many of the events – we stayed home. Every time he came back in town, we’d spend time together. I remember he wouldn’t let us watch other brands of wrestling because he would rather we watch real wrestling like he does, not the fancy, showy stuff they do nowadays.”
Said Buck, “I’m really proud of my daughter. She works very hard and will be very successful in this business. She’s just getting started, but she has a match in Brainerd on March 2. She’s learned a lot – she’s had a good teacher.”
He smiled and went to pose for more pictures and to sign another autograph.
Kenny “Sodbuster” Jay has been wrestling all his life. He has battled with the best. In all the matches he’s been in, he’s never faced a challenge like he has right now. Said Kenny, “My grandson, Tommy [Benkowski] has a rare blood disorder that affects mostly children. I am doing my part to make sure he gets the best of treatment, and I have to say the other guys have been wonderful with helping with this cause.”
He continued, “Do you think I’d still be doing this if I didn’t have to? Sure I love it, but at 29, I’m getting old.”
But there’s a serious side to Kenny Jay’s wrestling these days. Not only is Kenny helping his grandson, he has become a champion for the Histiocytosis Association of America. Last year at an annual event held in an American Legion post in Bloomington, Kenny and a group of his friendly wrestlers raised over $10,000 for the cause. This year, the benefit is on March 31.
He has done a lot of benefits in his days of wrestling, but none have been more personal. “I’m not going to quit until I’ve done everything I can do to help these kids. It’s tough to see what they go trough and to see how hard it is on their families. You know, I never thought I would do a benefit for someone in my family like this. It has put into perspective just how important these things are to the people involved. Many people think we are rough and tough guys, but when it’s something like this, we find out just how human we are.”
Kenny Jay commended the McGrath Community Center as an important part of the town. “They need it to keep things going here. I hope we were able to help the achieve their goals. I hope I can keep coming to my new home and seeing all these great people,” he said, before stopping to sign more autographs.