Cedar Rapids Gazette – June 2, 1997
By Gus Schrader
This column is long overdue. It is about Alex Fidler, a man who was an institution in Cedar Rapids for many, many years.
It was prompted by a letter from Betty Barger of Cedar Rapids, wife of the late Bill Barger, a United Airlines pilot. Betty asked about Alex’s son, Paul, who retired after a fine career as a United pilot about 20 years ago and moved to Florida. The writer also asked about Alex, a longtime friend of mine.
You old-timers won’t have difficulty in remembering Alex. He was The Gazette’s street-circulation manager for several decades. This meant he hired youngsters who sold copies of The Gazette all over the business district. Now the papers are sold in machines.
I wish I could remember all the men who have told me through the years that “I sold papers for Alex when he operated down in a corner of The Gazette basement.” Among them was Bill Fitch, who has coached basketball in every place but the belly of a whale.
These lively kids used to play a form of basketball in that area, using almost anything — even a big wad of newsprint — for a ball. They also get into scraps over street-sales territorial rights, and Alex usually invited them to fight it out in our Golden Gloves tourneys.
That was another dodge of his: refereeing. I think he still holds the world record for the number of boxing and wrestling (pro only) matches he officiated. I can’t recall the number, but Alex could always tell you exactly. It was way up, many thousands. He was featured several times in the nationally syndicated “Believe It of Not” panel conducted by a man named Ripley.
In most of this time, pro boxing and wrestling around Iowa mostly was promoted by Pinkie George of Des Moines. Alex was Pinkie’s referee, and he traveled all over the map working bouts for the great and the small.
Alex — with Pinkie’s help and financing – brought many famous men to Cedar Rapids, as contestants or “honorary referees.” I was able to meet the giants of those two sports — former world heavyweight boxing champions Joe Louis, Max Baer, Jack Dempsey, Ezzard Charles and some others I may have forgotten about. There were pro “rasslers” like Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Bronko Nagurski, who won fame as an All-American fullback and tackle at Minnesota and then with the Bears.
That reminds me. One night, after Bronko had performed on the Memorial Coliseum mat, he joined Alex, me and my wife for dinner at Eli Abodeely’s 316 Grill on Second Avenue SE. My wife was pregnant with our second child (this was 1951), and I can remember Alex and Bronko telling my wife, “If you have twins, and you name one after each of us, we’ll send them to college.”
I always wondered how Alex and Bronko Schrader would have sounded. Perhaps it was better the birth was single, and we named her Ann Elizabeth.
Everybody in town knew Alex, and most called him “Pally,” because that’s the way he greeted everyone. He was a good businessman with a heart of gold. He rarely got credit for all the help he gave the needy, and the meals he bought for “former boxers” down on their luck.
Paul was the only child of Alex and his wife, Sadie. Alex was awfully proud of Paul, who captained the UAL plane that flew Iowa’s football squad to the Rose Bowl in December 1956. Alex bought dozens of old Iowa helmets and had them painted bright gold with the ’56 scores. I still have mine. Down at the bottom was added “Pilot to the Rose Bowl: Paul Fidler.”
He was a sportsaholic. His first love affair with athletics, I believe, was with Leo Novak’s old Washington High football champions. Then he branched out to serve as trainer for Moray Eby’s teams at Coe, then with Iowa, where he also had charge of stadium and field house concessions. He sold food and drink at C.R. baseball games, too, and at Memorial Coliseum and Hawkeye Downs.
Alex wouldn’t accept pay for refereeing our Golden Gloves bouts, but each year we would take him to Chicago to help train our champions. Everyone there knew “Pally.” On one trip I had to write a column, so I left Alex with Lou Breuer, Gazette police reporter who managed our Gloves. When I returned, Lou told me: “Alex and all of his old buddies talked for an hour, and they didn’t mention any living person once!”
I’ve got dozens of other Alex Fidler stories. I’ve always thought Cedar Rapids should honor him, maybe name a school or building after him. It would be much more fitting than some of our dead presidents.