Shoe Biz Profile - June 1997


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

Art was born on Feb 16, 1912 in the heart of St. Louis at 18th & Biddie Street where many years later he would direct the wrecking machine to tear his birthplace down to build the Vaughn Housing Project.

At the age of 11 years, Art moved with his parents, four brothers and two sisters to the town of Pattonville (St. Louis Co.) in 1923. His father was a carpenter and superintendent for the Millstone Constructin Co. He attended both Pattonville and Ritenour schools. Later he attended Washington University. As a young man he played baseball for the St. Louis County League with Vigus and Pattonville. Art was also a bowler carrying a 190 average. He bowled with Don Carter, running neck & neck with him for high average. Don went on to buy a bowling alley, becoming a World Champion bowler and celebrity.

Art has been married three times. His first wife, Genevieve for 34 years died in 1967. He then married the second time for 20 years until her death. He is presently married to his wife, Carmen, since 1993 and lives in the Creve Coeur area. He has 3 sons, one daughter, one stepson and 3 step-daughters and 16 grandchildren.

World War II rolled around cutting short his baseball career. Married, with several children, Art was drafted in April 1944, becoming a field artillery instructor at Ft. Still, OK where they built small arms. Art was in the same outfit in the Army with Red Skelton at Camp Roberts in California. It was a blast! They finally moved Red to the entertainment department of the Armed Forces so Art could get his work done.

Through his lifetime occupation Art has seen St. Louis and the County grow and develop as he became a part of the building construction industry. Art was project manager on many building projects: the Ford Plant in Bridgeton, all overpasses on I-70 to Union, St. Louis Waterworks on the MO River, Crestwood Plaza, the Poplar Bridge, Famous-Barr West County, just to name a few.

Across the street from where Art attended Pattonville School was the site of an old dairy farm, owned by the Post family, where they purchased their milk when he was a kid. Many years later he cleared that site to build "Northwest Shopping Center," he had to demolish an old antebelum home. His old homestead was only three blocks away with his mother still living there. Art has fond memories of this project as he was able to spend afternoon tea stories with her and her homemade cookies. She died after he had spent four wonderful weeks with her.

Through his occupation he met many influential people: mayors, architects, business agents, inspectors, sub-contractors and talented building tradesman. By the way, he always had at least one horseshoe court on every job site. They settled many differences and many deals on the horseshoe court (just as they do on today's golf courses)!

Art, an avid bridge player, played bridge with President Reagan's campaign manager in this region and he arranged for Art to meet with the President. His brush to greatness would be shaking hands with him, eyeball to eyeball; he had a delightfully firm handshake.

Returning home after the war, Art began to think about horseshoes, building a court in his backyard and purchasing a pair of Gordon shoes. One day at a picnic, displaying his ability on the courts, one of the players suggested he go to Fairgrounds Park in St. Louis and play with a fellow named JOE WORS. Joe was the city champ and went to World Tourneys. In fact, Joe had beaten "Casey Jones" who was the very best! It was now 1952, Art had never seen anyone throw so many ringers and Art became hooked on horseshoes! He went there every week for lessons; watching and learning. He never won a game all summer, but he began making it interesting for Joe. The next summer he did the same, but then would go to Carondelet Park and played with some pretty good pitchers: Paul Lattrey, Brooks Denny, Harvey Kohlenberger, Dick Wedel, Bill Wamser, Dan Murphy, Abe Carmack, Jim Denny and Bill Young.

The summer of 1954 Art was winning his share of games and entered the Greater St. Louis Horseshoe Tournament. One the eve before the tournament he tossed 90 ringers out of a hundred shoes. He kept that bit of information to himself and went on to win the tournament the following day, beating all the above mentioned players!

The following week he went to the State Fair at Sedalia and won it! Every game was 50 points and it would take all day to complete a tournament with time out only for lunch. The last game of the day began around 5:00PM and it was an unforgettable game for Art. He was tied with the former state champion, John Elkins, each having lost only one game in the tournament. John was pitching against Earl Winston on the next court and he heard Earl beating him all through the game as Art continued to win his own. He then shook hands with Earl as he had just become the 1954 state champ!

One year later, 1955 things turned around. Art beat John Elkins to pave the way for Earl to win by one game.

Art stayed in the Winston's home (Earl's Mom & Dad) several times between tournaments. While Earl's Mom was cooking one of her delicious meals, Wayne would take the men out to the courts and "beat them up!" While attending the Springfield tournaments they would stay at Red Wommack's daughter's home where he says he never did get a good night's sleep. He could hear Earl Winston, John Elkins, Dave Baker and his Dad talk all night long about the chronology of horseshoes.

There weren't any tournaments around the St. Louis area in 1955. With the help of Bill Young, the two of them would hold two tournaments a year at Carondelet Park. They would hold some tournaments at Blanchette Park in St. Charles, Hawk Point, Creve Coeur and several in Arnold. He quickly realized that when you run a tournament you are to preoccupied to pitch a good game yourself.

Art won the State Class "B" Division in 1959 with 8 wins and 0 losses pitching 70.3% the high ringer percentage for a "B" winner in Mo. In Missouri state matches for MO champion, Art's record is 28 wins in 55 games, his total ringer percentage - 59.08%. In the 60's he attended a tournament in Topeka, Kansas and was beaten by Vicki Winston in Class B. Vicki won first and Art finished third. He recalls playing Harvey Kohlenberger in 1960. In that game, Art and Harvey threw 7 straight four deads. And in another partner game, he tossed 30 straight doubles.

Art has participated in tournaments in Illinois for over 20 years pitching in tournaments in Millstadt, Quincy, Jacksonville & Pekin. He also traveled to tournaments in Burlington, Iowa. He has been a member of the NHPA for 30 years.

In Art's view, the best thing that has helped progressed horseshoes in recent years was when the women were allowed to play in mixed competition. The second best was letting senior men pitch from the 30 foot foul line. "Let's face it, you just don't have the physical strength to throw that 2 1/2 pound shoe from 40 feet anymore. It saved the game for a lot of horseshoe aficionados. Golly! Do we seniors love and enjoy this game!"

Art is a member of the Greater St. Louis Horseshoe Club. There are a lot of senior members there and 27 of them are WW II Veterans. Art speaks of his teammates. "And don't forget, these 70 plus year old gentlemen were 18 years old during wartime. I remember some of these kids crying in bed at night, being the first time they were away from home and they saw plenty of action. Carl Rittner was in the Navy Sweeping mines off the coast of Iwo Jima preparing for Ollie Klosterman and his fellow Marines to invade that well fortified island. Charlie Rogers was on a bomber dropping bombs on the Phillipine Island ahead of Darwin Compton as they invaded down below. Jim Chapman flew over 40 bombing missions over Germany receiving the Silver Star Medal. Elmer Bowman had his aircraft carrier sunk under him in the sea battle at Midway. Dick Cotter, Ed Gaertner and Bill Weindel were in the Battle of the Bulge; Frank Miles, Clint Proffer, Ken Sykora and I were training to invade Japan. We agreed with President Truman in his decision to drop the atom bomb. Maybe if he hadn't, we wouldn't be here today." Art's favorite songs during the war was "White Christmas" and "I'll be home for Christmas" - real tear jerkers even now as he hears them replayed.

Everybody loves horseshoes. Both President Truman and President Busch had horseshoes courts installed at the Whitehouse. Art knew a fellow soldier who played with Admiral Halsey on the beach in Hawaii. Horseshoes has been a therapeutic sport for him, in time of war, and in times of peace.

A man large in stature, a giant in his business, serving his country in wartime, a tough competitor on the courts, and still, steady as an oak, Art now 85 years young, reaps the fruits of his golden years.