Some 50 years ago, three men came together with a vision for their community. The men wanted to develop their community’s legion baseball program into a formidable one. They wanted to give their players the assistance that they needed, both financially and materially, to succeed and become a major player on the legion baseball scene.
But it was more than that. These three men wanted to integrate the participation and support of their community into the success of their legion team. They wanted to mobilize a community to give back to itself, to build a successful program and, perhaps just as important, for the young men who partook in that success to themselves give back to the program with future volunteer contributions to this program.
And they succeeded. The crowning pinnacle of their success – a success that may never again be seen our lifetimes in any local community – occurred on Labor Day of 1982. On that day, the Boyertown Bears climaxed a ridiculous, 54-3 record by standing on the pinnacle of Legion Baseball by defeating Lafayette (CA), 14-8, to win the Legion World Series. In Boyertown. In Bear Stadium.
Which they themselves had built.
Yes, that’s right: they built it. Just as the original Yankee Stadium was called “The House That Ruth Built,” so can Bear Stadium be called “The House That the Big Three Built.” It still stands, a symbol of a community’s desire to give back to itself by providing a state-of-the-art facility for its youth to use – a facility that overcame many obstacles (some from within its own community) and was built with minimal expense.
Today, the last of The Big Three passed away to his final reward. Ken Ellis, the stoic one, the dedicated one, the one who could rarely be seen cracking a smile, but who could rarely NOT be seen at even a mere pre-season exhibition game, has followed his predecessors Bud Garber and Don Specht to the Great Ballyard in the Sky.
To know Ken Ellis was to know a man who was fiercely dedicated to his visions and disciplined to handle the task at hand. “Kenny” (as we in the Bears organization knew him) could come across as quiet and aloof, dour and, to be frank, unfriendly. He seemed to view fans with whom he was not familiar as outsiders and strangers.
But to those he knew, to those with whom he shared his vision of the success of his community’s legion team and interacted with him while volunteering their time to do so, Kenny had a different appearance. He was supportive and encouraging. He was genuinely interested in your endeavors to help the program – as well as your own life and happiness. He was engaged in the organization and even in those exhibition games that he was watching.
He cared. He may not have made it obvious that he was so passionate about the success of the organization, nor did he wear it on his sleeve. But he cared.
Kenny more than “held his own” among the strong-willed “Big Three.” Bud Garber (who passed in 1996) was the outgoing, sometimes gruff, leader of the construction parties, the “field sergeant” who got the physical work done. Don Specht (who passed just before the start of the Bears’ historical 2004 season) was the personality, the marketing figure / spokesperson, the smooth-talker who worked behind the scenes – and in front of them – to encourage and motivate people to help the program.
And then there was Ken Ellis, the man who in some ways a combination of both Bud and Don. As strong-willed as the other two, Ken could be gruff and outspoken, but could also work behind the scenes. Like both Bud and Don, Ken donated countless hours of his time and many many dollars of his fortune to help the program. But to a lesser degree than Bud and Don, Ken did not bother to tell you about it. Instead, the financial cogpin in the organization preferred to work behind the scenes. Scott “Skinny” Moatz, a player from 1976-1979, summed it up best when he wrote of Kenny that “ .. all he [Kenny] did was behind the scenes and he never needed credit,” adding that Ken “… just wanted a nice place for people to come watch youth baseball and a great place for the kids of Boyertown to play.”
The Big Three were not the only people who made key contributions to the develop of the Boyertown Legion Baseball program into a national power, the premier legion baseball organization in the country. There were people such as Bob Chittick, Skinny Eshbach, Dick Ludy, Buck Rhodes, even Ken’s own brother Bob Ellis. And there were the countless other people who contributed in ways that perhaps were smaller in magnitude, but which nevertheless have been necessary.
But with one exception, Ken Ellis was the last of those legends in the Boyertown Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. His contributions as one of the Big Three will always live in the pantheon of Boyertown Legion Baseball. To his wife Betty – herself a member of the Legion Baseball Hall of Fame for her many contributions to legion baseball – and his survivors, this scribe offers his sincerest sympathies.
Written by: Robert A. Zambanini Jr.