Before Lambeau Field, there was City Stadium. Before City Stadium, there was Bellevue Park, and still before that there was Hagemeister Park.
Twin brothers Ernie and Ervin Baudhuin actually remember going to Hagemeister Park, where the Green Bay Packers played their first four years in existence, from 1919 through 1922.
Now 92 years old and living in Palm Coast, Fla., the Baudhuin twins grew up in Green Bay near Whitney School on the city's east side, not far from the old sandlot near Baird and Walnut streets where their beloved team got its start.
"We loved football ourselves and we played football as little kids, too," Ernie said. "When the Packers came on the scene, that was our dream to watch them. They were the greatest. We just loved them, as did all the fans."
Some of the memories are a little foggy, but the Baudhuins believe they attended their first Packers' game as six-year-olds, in 1920. They're curious whether any other Packer fans can remember watching games at Hagemeister, which they felt had a charm all its own, with ropes around the field and no admission charge.
"One thing still in my memory is after the game they would take up a personal collection, and the Packers would consider that as their salary," Ernie said. "It was pretty tough in those earlier days."
It's also tough to remember a lot of details from games seen more than 80 years ago, but Ernie has a lot of notes he's written down over the years. He still rattles off some of the more memorable players he saw growing up, such as quarterback Charlie Mathys (1922-26), lineman Jug Earp (1922-32), back Eddie Kotal (1925-29), punter Verne Lewellen (1924-32) and receiver Lavvie Dilweg (1927-34).
Coming from Green Bay East High School, the Baudhuins also fondly remember Arnie Herber (1930-40) because he came from rival Green Bay West. And they'll never forget the team's founder himself, Curly Lambeau.
"In the earlier days, coach Curly Lambeau, he'd always be in full football gear," Ernie recalled. "If things got too tough, he would get in to play and help straighten things out. That was interesting."
From those first games at Hagemeister Park, the Baudhuins formed a lifelong bond with the team. Born in Sturgeon Bay on Jan. 17, 1914, the Baudhuins moved to Green Bay at age 2 and remained there throughout their childhood and teen years.
When the Packers moved to City Stadium in 1925, the postgame "collection" had long ceased, but that didn't stop the Baudhuins from still getting to see the games for free.
"We'd gather around the entrance gate, and the players would smuggle us in under their blankets," Ernie said. "That was great."
Relationships with the players were forged away from the field as well. In their first two years of high school, at ages 13 and 14, the Baudhuins caddied for the players at the Oneida Golf and Riding Club.
"In those days golf was a luxury game for bankers and some influential lawyers, et cetera, and when we caddied for the players we always remembered them because they were so kind to us," Ernie said. "They tipped better than the bankers."
The Baudhuins left Green Bay to pursue their working careers in the mid-1930s. Ernie went on to a long career in graphic arts, while Ervin worked many years for Metropolitan Life. They remained mostly in the Midwest and of course stayed Packer fans and came back to Green Bay when they could.
They even attended the Ice Bowl together.
"I just remember when Bart Starr snuck across that line," Ervin said. "He was really our favorite and a wonderful man."
Now, the twins are relegated to watching the Packers on TV from Florida, where they are active members of St. Mark By the Sea Lutheran Church in Palm Coast. Ernie continues to use his artistic talents by teaching watercolor to members of the congregation, and one of his prize students is his brother.
"They're full of life, I'm just amazed," said Pastor Tom Bingol, who noted that one of Ervin's recent watercolors is in the church reception area. "They are two shining examples of every day just living life to the fullest, and they're looking forward to another season.
"Packer fans are a robust bunch."
Those who frequented Hagemeister Park certainly qualify.
"All those games were so hard-fought and the fans were just fantastic. They really supported that team," Ernie said. "I just think of the enthusiasm of the fans and the players and how they responded. They were the greatest."