If there would be a Hall of Fame for the best parties in America one would have to nominate the one that took place at the Butte Civic Center on Saturday evening.
There, the Butte Sports Hall of Fame inducted its 14th class of athletes since 1987 and contributors to the Mining City’s sports prowess over the years, during a festive event brimming with good feelings and emotion.
The biannual event did nothing to disappoint those in attendance.
Things started with a special presentation for one of the 11 individual inductees who couldn’t be a part of some of the previous day’s festivities.
Due to missing Friday’s green jacket presentation due to personal reasons, Jim Janhunen was awarded his own piece of the valued and special wardrobe that would immortalize him as one of Butte’s best athletes.
His mother Janet and his wife Renee helped present him with his jacket as one of the prevailing themes on the evening was the blessing given him as he battles a serious illness.
Then the party got going as the teams that were inducted into the Hall – the 1984 state boys’ basketball teams of Butte High and Butte Central, the 1984-5 Butte High wrestling teams, the 1984-85 Butte High girls’ golf teams, the 1984 girls’ track team, and the Butte-Anaconda Independent Football League champions – came out amidst a spotlight and applause from those in attendance as their champion swagger remained intact three decades later.
Matt Vincent, the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, began the introductions of the individual inductees: Janhunen, Josh Paffhausen, Todd Ericson, Dan Ueland, Dick Wilson, Dave McDougall, Tami Mathewson, Jim Michelotti, Tim Mueller, Wayne Paffhausen, and Dick Roche.
“Butte America, the cities of champions,” Vincent told the crowd. “I am not alone when I say I thank God that I am blessed to be a part of something bigger than myself and something it has to offer to Butte.”
With the 11 individuals settled at the table onstage, an intermission to explore the dinner offerings took place and soon the moments many families and friends would remember began.
Chairman Pat Kearney thanked the 401 paid attendees for their support in helping make the Butte Sports Hall of Fame the success it has been in being able to hold the event every two years.
Then the inductions began.
“When the going got tough, the tough got going,” an emotional Jon McElroy, who gave the induction speech for Janhunen, said. “And that was Jim Janhunen…if we needed someone to make the big play, it was always Jimmy.”
Renee Janhunen gave her husband’s ‘Thank You’ speech and maintained a strong demeanor despite her obvious emotions.
“My teammates have remained my best friends and I played for three great coaches, Sonny Holland, Sonny Lubick, and Mick Delaney,” Renee said in reading her husband’s intended words.
Michelotti began his speech by giving his best wishes to Janhunen.
“All I can say is that our prayers are with you, we love you, and you will always be with us, and thank you for coming and being here with us tonight,” Michelotti, a member of the Hall of Fame, said. “This makes for 173 individuals in the Hall of Fame and I am one of them, but not for my athletic ability, but for what I do for the Hall of Fame, local activities, and for Butte. I am lucky to have lived in Butte all my life…I have 13 grandkids and Maria and Jake are here tonight and the other 11 are at home, probably destroying it.”
Josh and Wayne Paffhausen, son and father respectively were named into this class together which meant a lot to the younger of the two.
“Being honored with your father is an amazing accomplishment,” Josh Paffhausen said. “When the list was read off to me and they read my dad’s name off, I broke into tears…I thank my brothers for showing me what it took to win. To the committee, thank you for everything you do. You are a tremendous group of individuals.”
Later, Wayne Paffhausen shared many of the same thoughts as his son.
“I ended up with four great sons (out of his marriage) and it was such a great honor to be inducted into the hall with my son,” the elder Paffhausen said. “You can talk about all the individual accolades you want, but if you don’t have a great team it doesn’t work. I was fortunate to have that kind of team. You are only as good as the people behind you.”
Roche reminisced about his playing days and appreciated the honor of being placed in the Hall with many other athletes he knew quite well.
“What an honor it is to be in this Hall of Fame,” Roche said. “I know a lot of those who have made the Hall of Fame, but after being out of high school for 60 years, your memory goes with it.”
Mueller, who started pitching at age 16, took to the game right away and became a dominant baseball player for the Butte Miners and took the time to thank those who pushed him forward to greatness.
“Who would have thought, huh?” Mueller said. “You never get here by yourself…you have a lot of people help you get here. I was fortunate for my parents teaching me the rights from wrongs and the time they spent with me was priceless.”
Mathewson was short in her thanks as she was humbled by being named into the Hall.
“It’s an unbelievable privilege to be here,” she said. “I had two goals tonight to be succinct and not to cry and I don’t know if I will do that, but I will try. I want to thank Butte the community in general because I wouldn’t have grown to be the person I am today.”
McDougall spoke of his 87-year-old father and his time serving for this nation’s military along with all of those who have and do, asking for the crowd to join him in honoring them.
“When I was 17-years old I was getting reading to participate in cross country and track and when my dad was 17-years old he was getting ready to fight for this country in World War II,” McDougall said as he also took a moment to remember his running days. “I want to thank all my old teammates…thanks for your patience with my ego and for your encouragement to improve on and off the track.”
Wilson, who was honored with his green jacket from his wife Patty on Friday, lauded the Butte embrace of athletics.
“If we are able to achieve and be recognized, that’s really cool,” Wilson said. “It’s cool to participate in a community such as this that has such a huge, historic past, and I have a little niche there now. This little itch in my throat reminds me how honored I am.”
Ueland was introduced by his twin brother Don, who started his induction speech with “I have known the next inductee all my life.”
“As usual he stole half of my speech,” Dan quipped about his brother. “I want to thank the coaches I have played for…and needless to say I had great Butte coaches. I have to thank my brothers Ron and Don who are in this Hall of Fame. Don, my identical twin brother, same height, same weight, same speed, I had the higher GPA…and the Butte police weren’t sure who was who.”
Ericson, who now lives in the Seattle area, got a few barbs in about never losing to the Montana State Bobcats during his days as a member of the University of Montana football team.
“It was awkward being alone in a hotel room and crying,” Ericson said about his reaction upon hearing of his selection into the Hall of Fame. “The biggest privilege for me is the group of 10 other inductees behind me. I am very honored to be a part of this class. I have a great appreciation for the great teams, athletes, and friends, I was able to know and play with during my high school and college careers.”
As the night concluded, the lasting memory would be that greatness was recognized and Butte came together to support a friend while embracing a night still decorated with plenty of joy to go around.