Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel

This is a strange post for me. You would not think that the death of this amazing dare devil would mean anything to me. But it does. Reading about him and his death in the local Montana newspapers reveals a cultural side of Montana you rarely hear about. Some of the national articles about Knievel fail to mention or barely mention that he was born and raised in Butte, Montana.

Just the other day, I went to lunch with my friend to the Hungarian Bistro next to Albertson's in Mukilteo. The lunch was ok but the cake was fabulous. Realizing that the owner/chef is actually from that part of Europe, I asked her if she made povatica. She said yes! I was giddy and she explained that if I wanted one I would need to give her two weeks notice. Povatica is a wonderful pastry in the shape of a loaf. The yeast dough is rolled paper thin and then it is filled with walnuts, sugar and butter.

My friend who grew up in California and moved here from Colorado looked at me with astonishment because she had no idea what I was even talking about. Then I explained. "You see, it is because I am from Montana."

"What!?" She was puzzled. I went on.

"In the late 1800's and early 1900's, a lot of immigrants made their way west and settled in the mining towns of Montana and particularly Butte. Many of them were Irish and Italian but a good percentage came from the countries of Eastern Europe like Serbia, Croatia, Armenia, and Hungary. A lot of people in Montana whose families originated in that part of Europe have last names that end with 'ich.' One of my best friends in high school was an ich. Dave's Dad's best friend was an ich and my Dad's best friend was an ich. Naturally, they brought along their culture and their food. My Dad's best fishing buddy was the junior high gym teacher where he taught and was principal. His last name was MacKanich. At Christmas time his wife would give us her home made povatica. So for me, being able to come up with povatica this time of year makes it seem more like Christmas!"

"Oh, I see. I guess. Ok."

I am disappointed that the obituaries across the country leave out the Montana part of Evel Knievel because it was a huge part of who he was and why he did what he did. Butte was a rough, tough mining town. For example, when I was in high school, the Butte cheer leaders tried to beat up our pretty prissy Helena cheer leaders after a basketball game we won because...well, because it was Butte. The town gave rise to a rich and colorful history along with the cultural influences of the immigrants who settled there. To understand and give respect to Evel Knievel and his family, you need to go to the local papers. Knievel was an exaggeration of the quintessential Butte citizen. I could not resist highlighting the names of the bars. Butte is known for its bars and always has been. Of course, any story out of Butte will also undoubtedly have an ich!

From the Butte paper, the Montana Standard:

"... Born Robert Craig Knievel in the copper mining town of Butte on Oct. 17, 1938, Knievel was raised by his grandparents. He traced his career choice back to the time he saw Joey Chitwood’s Auto Daredevil Show at age 8.

'The phrase one-of-a-kind is often used, but it probably applies best to Bobby Knievel,” said former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., Knievel’s cousin. 'He was an amazing athlete... He was sharp as a tack, one of the smartest people I’ve ever known and finally, as the world knows, no one had more guts than Bobby. He was simply unafraid of anything.' Outstanding in track and field, ski jumping and ice hockey at Butte High School, Knievel went on to win the Northern Rocky Mountain Ski Association Class A Men’s ski jumping championship in 1957 and played with the Charlotte Clippers of the Eastern Hockey League in 1959.

He also formed the Butte Bombers semiprofessional hockey team, acting as owner, manager, coach and player.

Knievel also worked in the Montana copper mines, served in the Army, ran his own hunting guide service, sold insurance and ran Honda motorcycle dealerships. As a motorcycle dealer, he drummed up business by offering $100 off the price of a motorcycle to customers who could beat him at arm wrestling.

At various times and in different interviews, Knievel claimed to have been a swindler, a card thief, a safe cracker, a holdup man. [emphasis mine]

Evel Knievel married hometown girlfriend, Linda Joan Bork, in 1959. They separated in the early 1990s. They had four children, Kelly, Robbie, Tracey and Alicia...."


And from the Helena Independent Record:

"BUTTE — When his telephone rang late Thursday, Muzzy Faroni’s best friend, Evel Knievel, was on the line.

“He don’t call me at 11 o’clock at night,” Faroni said. “I had a funny hunch something was wrong. He said ‘I want you to pray for me.’ ”

The old friends agreed to talk again Friday or Saturday before ending the conversation, which would be their last. ...

Longtime friends of Butte’s famous daredevil recalled a tough, straight-talking guy who was sometimes wily and unpredictable, and personified everything about the scrappy mining town from which he was raised.

Faroni first met Knievel while running the Rose Garden Bar, 1801 S. Montana St., in the early 1950s. Knievel was 13 or 14 at the time, and visited the bar to chat with Faroni and his customers.

“We really became close,” said Faroni, who in 1962 opened the Freeway Tavern, 2001 S. Montana St., which he runs today. ...

Bob Pavlovich of Butte, a former state legislator, owned the Met Tavern. He remembers a young Knievel from his childhood playing hockey and later as a merchant policeman who checked the security of businesses at night, and as an insurance salesman.

Their friendship grew throughout the years. Pavlovich occasionally traveled with Knievel and attended golf tournaments with the blooming celebrity.

“He put Butte on the map as far as that goes,” he said. “He’s never forgotten where he comes from.”

Evel was proud to call the Mining City home and was always surrounded by friends from his home town. Pavlovich remembers when the daredevil organized a vacation with 19 other people from Butte and flew the whole group to Florida where they played golf and stayed at Knievel’s home.

“It was first class,” he said. “We had two big limousines and he took care of us.”

Pavlovich described Knievel as a daring showman who was unpredictable and always willing to take a risk.

He recalls one Christmas in the 1960s while closing the Met after 2 a.m. when Knievel took him for a ride in his new Volkswagen, which he bragged he could drive on water.

The two were in Rocker that night when Knievel noticed a huge pile of snow and told Pavlovich to prepare for a wild ride.

“He said ‘watch us go through this thing’ and I said ‘you’re nuts, we’ll never get through that thing,”‘ he laughed. “We went right through it. He said ‘let’s go to Georgetown (Lake) and we’ll see if it floats. I said ‘you can go, but you’re not taking me with you.”....

Ron Fisher was still shaken by the news of his friend’s death as he shared stories about Knievel with patrons at Maloney’s Bar Friday afternoon.

“He was all about Butte, he was never afraid to tell people he was from Butte,” Fisher said. ...

Former U.S. Congressman Pat Williams grew up with Knievel, his first cousin, and said the two were like brothers. The men, whose mothers were sisters, were raised by separate grandmothers in Butte and spent their childhoods together.

Williams described his cousin as a “born daredevil” who wasn’t afraid of anything.

“From the time we were little playing in my grandmother’s kitchen he was unstoppable and had enormous athletic ability,” he said. “When we were in first grade Bobby could walk on his hands and could go like a block. It was unbelievable. He was born with these amazing attributes.”

Knievel prided himself on his strength from an early age, but Williams said those who knew him will always remember a kind-hearted man.

“He could be meaner than a Butte blizzard and kinder than a Butte spring and not unlike the Mining City, you saw things in Bobby that you would never see anywhere else,” said Williams, who now lives in Missoula. [emphasis mine].....

Wade Dahood of Anaconda [MT], Knievel’s longtime lawyer, said he’d also talked to his friend Thursday night.

“He called and he said ‘Put me on your prayer list, I just don’t feel that well but I’m ready to be with God,’ "......

By John Grant Emeigh and Justin Post - The Montana Standard - 12/01/07

Evel Knievel died in Florida but he was a Montanan from Butte until the very end. Rest in peace.