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The truth and myth about 'The Hungry Five'

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While the story of “The Hungry Five” might be compelling narrative for any recounting of Packers history, it has become laced with myth and does a disservice to the many other people who tirelessly supported the early Packers.

“The Hungry Five” nickname was coined, as can best be determined, by Arch Ward, author of the *Green Bay Packers, *published in 1946 and the first book devoted to the history of the team.

At the time, Ward was sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, a post he held from 1930 until his death in 1955. Arguably, no sports editor has ever left a bigger imprint on the world of sports than Ward.

He created baseball’s All-Star Game, the College Football All-Star Game and the Golden Gloves boxing tournament. He turned down a lucrative offer to become commissioner of the NFL in 1941 and five years later helped found the All-America Football Conference.

He was considered a “promotional genius” and a newspaperman of unimpeachable integrity.

But Ward was not from Green Bay and had to rely on the distant memories of others to tell the early history of the Packers. His connection to the team was its co-founder, Curly Lambeau, who never let the facts get in the way of a good story, according to former Packers historian Lee Remmel.

Ward was roughly 16 months older than Lambeau, but followed him to the University of Notre Dame. Lambeau played football there in the fall of 1918 before dropping out of school, whereas Ward served as the first athletic publicity director there as an undergraduate from 1919 to 1921.

When Ward wrote his history of the Packers, 25 years had passed since their founding. And there were plenty of details that he got wrong.

Here’s a partial list:

The first year that Green Bay had a city football team. The location of Lambeau’s boyhood home. The location of the Packers’ first practice field. Naming Ray Setright as one of the Packers’ swiftest backs in their semipro years when he never played for them. A story about Green Bay native Charles Mathys making his debut for the Packers against Hammond in 1921 when in truth Mathys played for Hammond against the Packers that year. The year that a fan fell out of the stands at old City Stadium, an accident that nearly led to the team’s collapse. A notation that the Packers “hold no annual stockholders’ meeting” when they’ve actually held one every year since 1923, other than when they were in receivership.

But nowhere was Ward more wrong about Packers history than in his account of them becoming a community-owned team. This was where he said the story of “The Hungry Five” began.

“The Hungry Five,” according to Ward (pictured above, left to right), included Lambeau; Andrew Turnbull, one of the owners of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and first president of the Packers; Lee Joannes, a wholesale grocery magnate and team president from 1930 to 1947; Dr. W.W. Kelly, team physician and longtime Packers board member; and Gerald Clifford, Packers attorney and executive committee member during the 1930s and ‘40s.

There’s little or no reason to quarrel with Ward’s choices, other than maybe Lambeau, whose role was much different than the others and perhaps belonged in his own separate category. <br>

After all, it was Lambeau in a 1934 speech to the local Lions Club who seems to have first lumped the other four together by referring to them as the “Four Horsemen” of the Packers corporation.

Where Ward erred was in tying all four businessmen to the grassroots effort to turn the Packers into a community-owned team.

Turnbull, Kelly and Joannes were involved from the start, but there’s no evidence that Clifford was.

Turnbull was the driving force behind the initial meeting, held a week after the final home game of the financially disastrous 1922 season. Kelly and Joannes were original officers of the Green Bay Football Corporation.

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There also were others who played a vital role.

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John Kittell (pictured right), a prominent Green Bay attorney, presided over the first meeting. What’s more, Kittell, as chairman at that point, appointed a committee composed of Turnbull, Joannes, Fred Hurlbut, Ray Tilkens and George De Lair to plan the stock sale.

At a subsequent and smaller meeting five nights later, 38 men were selected to sell stock on behalf of the proposed corporation.

On Aug. 14, 1923, nine days before the papers were filed with the State of Wisconsin, Turnbull, Joannes and Kittell signed the Articles of Incorporation in the presence of the team’s co-founders, Lambeau and George Whitney Calhoun.

Kittell was the only attorney to sign the document and almost certainly was its author. Calhoun had been city editor at the Press-Gazette when the Packers were organized in 1919.

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On Sept. 17, 1923, at the corporation’s first stockholders meeting, Turnbull was elected president; Kittell, vice president; Joannes, secretary-treasurer; and De Lair  and Kelly, at-large members, of the Green Bay Football Corporation’s original five-man executive committee. They also were members of the original 15-man board of directors.

Clifford, on the other hand, wasn’t listed as being in attendance at any of the early meetings. He wasn’t one of 38 boosters picked to sell stock. He wasn’t one of the 14 men who put up the first $1,300 to invest in the corporation. He wasn’t named to the Packers’ board of directors until 1929 and to the executive committee until 1930. He didn’t even become a shareholder until June 1, 1931.

Once Clifford replaced Ray Evrard as the Packers’ attorney in 1929 or soon thereafter, he became as actively involved as any of the other “Hungry Five” members. He defended the organization in the lawsuit that forced the Packers into receivership in 1933 and was the attorney who signed and almost certainly drafted the Articles of Incorporation when the franchise reorganized as the Green Bay Packers, Inc., in 1935.

He also did considerable legwork as head of the team’s season-ticket drive in communities outside Green Bay for many years. There’s no disputing his eventual and substantial contribution, and his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.

The Packers found themselves on their deathbed from a financial standpoint at least three times: 1922-23, 1933-35 and 1949-50.

“The Hungry Five” pulled them through the 1933-35 crisis when the Packers spent 17 months in receivership. The court-appointed committee that ran the franchise during that period included Frank Jonet, the receiver and an accountant who was first involved with the team as office manager of the Indian Packing Company in 1919; “Hungry Five” members Joannes, Clifford, Turnbull and Kelly; and Mathys, who had been a member of the Green Bay Football Corporation’s executive committee since shortly after he retired as a player in 1926.

Clifford and Kelly fought to save the present nonprofit corporate structure in a 1949 power struggle with Lambeau; and Joannes took a lead role in the lifesaving stock sale that followed.

But there’s no evidence in the Packers’ corporate records or in the Press-Gazette’s thorough coverage to suggest Clifford played any meaningful role in the creation of the original not-for-profit corporation in 1923.

Nor was there evidence in other secondary sources prior to Ward writing his book.

A 1937 story in Collier’s magazine, The National Weekly, listed Turnbull, Kelly, Evrard, Joannes and Calhoun as the lead organizers of the Green Bay Football Corporation.

In a lengthy 1939 piece about the history of the Packers, Oliver Kuechle of The Milwaukee Journalwrote that Turnbull called a meeting at the Beaumont Hotel in December 1922 and recruited Kittell, Joannes, Kelly, Beaumont proprietor A.C. Witteborg (spelled E.C. Witteberg by Ward) and pharmacist Ed Schweger to reorganize the ball club as a nonprofit and come up with $1,600 owed to the players.

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Russ Davis, former Press-Gazette *newspaperman who had moved on to bigger things, wrote in *The Saturday Evening Post in 1940 that Kelly, Kittell, Witteborg and Schweger answered Turnbull’s call and together took out a note for $1,600 to meet overdue bills. Davis also happened to be the son of a Green Bay attorney and Packers shareholder.

Actually, there was evidence to suggest Kittell, who died in 1932 at age 61, got involved in the effort even before Turnbull.

Kittell and Lambeau spoke to the local Kiwanis Club on Nov. 20, 1922, to try and drum up interest in the Packers. Three days later, Kittell spoke to the Rotary Club to promote “Booster Day,” which essentially was a drive to sell tickets for the Thanksgiving Day game against Duluth and pull the Packers out of red ink. A six-hour rainstorm with 46 mph wind gusts on game day spoiled the effort and led to the Dec. 7, 1922, meeting presided over by Kittell.

Ward wrote that “The Hungry Five” launched the effort with a small luncheon in the Beaumont Hotel’s Attic Room and followed it with a spring meeting at the Elks Club. Subsequently, an undated and misidentified picture has been published that included “The Hungry Five,” minus Kelly, and traced to the Attic Room and either 1922 or ’23.

One, no mention of an Attic Room in the Beaumont could be found before 1933. Also, Lambeau and Tubby Bero, another of the original Packers, were in the picture and looked older than 24 or 25, their actual age at the time, as did members of “The Hungry Five” and others in the photo.

“The Hungry Five” deserves all the credit it has been given for guiding the Packers through a near-death experience in the 1930s and their other contributions. Additionally, Lambeau, Turnbull, Joannes and Kelly were among those who created the original nonprofit, community-owned corporation.

But the Packers also owe their existence to countless other civic leaders from the early 1920s.

The shame of it is that men like Kittell, De Lair, Witteborg, Schweger and Evrard, among others, have been overlooked by history.

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