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Tony Walter's book recounts family's involvement with the Green Bay Packers

Richard Ryman
Green Bay Press-Gazette

The Green Bay Packers are part of Tony Walter's DNA.

Walter is a former Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor whose father, John, was a Press-Gazette Packers reporter and sports editor. His family includes Hagemeisters, Minahans and Torinuses, all notable actors in the Packers story, which gives him a unique perspective. 

In his new book, "The Packers, My Dad, and Me: A Family Legacy That Fed a National Obsession," he shares that perspective, aided immeasurably by his father's diaries. The book is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at Bosse's News & Tobacco in downtown Green Bay, where Walter will do a book signing from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.

As he did in his first book, "Baptism by Football,"  which covers the pivotal year of 1922, Walter weaves Green Bay and world events with Packers history. Charles Lindbergh and Adolf Hitler make appearances, along with Curly Lambeau, Don Hutson, Johnny Blood, George Calhoun, and others.

Tony Walter, former Press-Gazette sports editor, talks about his book, "Baptism by Football: The Year Green Bay and the Packers Forged Their Futures." in 2017. Walter has a new book about his family, the Packers and their first glory years, from 1929 to 1936, "The Packers, My Dad, And Me."

And, most prominently, John Walter, a young man with upward ambitions who was, to put it mildly, a social butterfly. 

"Dad’s is also the story of a time past, of life in the Midwestern city of his birth, when radio, sports, women, the cinema, and beer were a bachelor’s entertainment and companions," Tony wrote.

Walter has some fun with his father's serial dating regimen as related in the diary, as well as his observations, sometimes very wrong, about the Packers.

RELATED:New book 'Baptism by Football' recounts critical year for Packers, Green Bay

RELATED:Packers 'Legacy' documentary gets wide release

For example, on Sept. 10, 1935, John Walter wrote:  "Tonight’s Packer feature was on Don Hutson, the all-American end from Alabama who was catching Dixie Howell’s passes in the Rose Bowl last New Year’s Day. He’ll never be a pro all-American. He can’t block and is too brittle. Very fast though.”

Hutson, of course, became one of the greatest receivers in NFL history. And, it should be noted, a friend of John Walter.

Two days later, John wrote about his job and his relations with one of the seminal founders of the Packers:  “My office relations with George Calhoun, the telegraph editor, are becoming very strained. He thinks I am trying to muscle in on his job as Packer secretary, in which he is entirely correct. Dropped in to Northland to visit with several of the Packers. George Maddox, George Sauer and Lon Evans."

Significant events included Prohibition, which was not popular in Green Bay at the time,  and had an unfortunate direct impact on the Walter family when Hagemeister Brewing Company was raided in 1925 and found to be selling liquor. John's dad, Gus Walter Jr., who was president of the company, ended up serving 10 months in a prison work camp.

Gus was the grandson of Henry Hagemeister, who founded the brewery, and it was Gus who arranged the sale of Hagemeister Park to the Green Bay School Board in 1920 for the future home of East High School and City Stadium.

As John observed the world, war seemed to often be just over the horizon and getting closer, movies went from silent films to talkies, and the country went from Republican to Democrat. The diary covers much of the Depression years, so it's not surprising to see frequent complaints from Walter about not having enough money.

“My life has seemed so futile thus far … here I am, almost 29 years old, always broke between paydays and not a nickel in the bank," he wrote on Aug. 31, 1936.

But he always kept his priorities in order, even when broke.

“Have officially launched economy program — no luxuries from now on — just the three necessities of life — eating, sleeping and dating," he wrote on Aug. 12, 1930.

In addition to diary entries, the book includes excerpts from John Walter's columns for the Press-Gazette. Writing styles and the relationship between the paper and the Packers were different then. The newspaper played a key role in the founding and growth of the Packers, and it took many years for the two to become more independent of one another. 

It was not unusual for Walter to have Packers players to his house for dinner, or for him to party with them. When he or others traveled to games, they often did so with the team.

The cover of Tony Walter's book, "The Packers, My Dad, and Me.

During the course of the book, which covers 1929 to 1936, when the Packers won four of their NFL-leading 13 championships, John Walter rises from a news gopher — gathering reports from the city fire department, the hospitals, the police department, "and any other place his editors would send him" — to Packers reporter, columnist and sports editor.

His days were always busy, it seems.

On Dec. 13, 1936, he wrote, “The Packers came through brilliantly, routing the Boston Redskins at New York to win the championship of the National Professional Football League, 21-6. Hutson, Gantenbein and Monnett scored touchdowns. Took Mother to see Carole Lombard and William Powell in ‘My Man Godfrey,’ a swell picture. Then celebrated Packer victory with John and Louise Torinus at Riviera.”

The list of women who dated John Walter is impressive. There's Marge and Trudy, Peggy and Katy, Julia and Lucille, Marion and Dot, and another Dot. The list goes on until 1937, when Mary Minihan, whose father was the editor of the Press-Gazette, got a summer job at the newspaper. 

Minahan was 11 years Walter's junior, but talented and determined in her own right. She set her sights on him, even sagely asking Walter for a team picture of the Packers after arriving at college in late 1937. What happens after that is in the book, and involves the Packers. But you can assume it's a happy ending.

Packers reading list

There are many, many books about the Packers. Here are a few that might be of interest:

  • "Green & Gold Memories: Growing up in Vince Lombardi's Green Bay," by Roger Dier. The title says it all. Dier grew up in Green Bay during a time when interaction with the Packers was frequent. Like Walter's  first book, it is as much about Green Bay during a specific time as about the Packers, and how each influenced the other.
  • "Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre," by Jeff Pearlman. Pearlman interviewed 573 people — former teammates and coaches, lifelong friends, family members — and took two years to write the book. Even without Favre's participation, he dives deeply into his life and career.
  • "When Pride Still Mattered : A Life Of Vince Lombardi," by David Maraniss. Pulitzer Prize-winner Maraniss was raised in Madison. He knows Wisconsin and the Packers and he knows how to cover big subjects. There is no better biography of Lombardi.
  • "Mudbaths and Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry," by Gary D'Amato and Cliff Christl. Why? Because its Packers and Bears. D'Amato wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Christl, former sportswriter for the Press-Gazette and Journal-Sentinel, is the official Packers historian. 
  • "Green and Gold Moments: Bob Harlan and the Green Bay Packers," by Dale Hofmann and Bob Harlan. A view from the top by one of the most important executives in Packers history. It's as if Curly Lambeau had written a book, only with more humility. 
  • "Bodyguard to the Packers," by Jerry Parins with Mike Dauplaise. Parins was a Green Bay Police officer who became Packers security chief. He offers an interesting off-field, behind-the-scenes look at the Packers organization. 
  • Cliff Christl's companion book to the Green Bay Packers' documentary, "Legacy: 100 Seasons of the Green Bay Packers." The book is still in production and a release date will be "later this year," but it's sure to be about as definitive a look at the Packers' history as you are likely to find.

Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or rryman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at  @rrymanPG or  on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/