Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • George Viorel, 100, led boxing club for many years

  • As he prepares to celebrate his 100th birthday on Monday, May 5, George Viorel shared memories of his boxing career and many years of teaching boxing to Hannibal boys.
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  • As he prepares to celebrate his 100th birthday on Monday, May 5, George Viorel shared memories of his boxing career and many years of teaching boxing to Hannibal boys.
    “Boxing to me was God-sent from Heaven,” Viorel said. “I was there every night, rain or shine.” “There” was the Admiral Coontz Recreation Center, where Viorel led the Hannibal Boxing Club.
    Viorel could have become wealthy, he said, but he refused to let anyone pay him. “I’m glad I didn’t charge a penny,” he said. “What would I have done with the money? … I got as much kick out of it as they got help.”
    Some boys started boxing very young. “I had them at 5 years old,” Viorel reported.
    And as they grew up, “a bunch of them turned professional.”
    Some were outstanding, he said. “Kenny Newland hit harder than anybody I ever saw.” Viorel believes Newland might have turned pro if he had started boxing at a younger age. “He was 30.”
    Another of his best boxers was Jack Ryan, who Viorel began coaching as “a real young kid.” Once when Ryan was fighting in St. Louis, Mike Tyson’s manager offered Viorel $12,000 for Ryan, and Viorel said “He ain’t for sale.” Ryan remains a good friend, he said.
    Learned boxing
    from Freddie Sharp
    Viorel, the son of the late Sabina and Egnot Viorel, was reared in Ilasco. He mother “ran like a race horse,” he said, and he ran with her until he was 15.
    He joined the U.S. Navy in his late teens, noting, “I always wanted to go to the Navy and learn how to fight.”
    During his four years on the USS Arizona, Viorel’s chief petty officer was Freddie Sharp, a professional boxer.
    Sharp asked if he wanted to spar, and Viorel did not want to because “he was too old” but was persuaded to try. “I was an alley fighter and I got the beating of my life.” Viorel said. “He put the skids to me. Then he told me if I wanted to learn how to box, he’d teach me. Freddie said ‘If you want to be a riff-raff, keep on, but if you want to box, Ill teach you.’ He was 38 then and a former champion.” Viorel fought lightweight, at 135 pounds.
    Viorel was scheduled to fight for lightweight champion of the Navy, but instead returned home for his mother’s funeral.
    After his Naval duty ended, Viorel lived in Los Angeles and briefly in British Columbia. “I lived away for almost 50 years,” he said. “I ran stores for big outfits.”
    Page 2 of 2 - He also was active in politics and wrote speeches for congressmen. He does not have a favorite party, explaining “I just vote for the guy I believe sounds best and that lies the best.”
    He also took time to box professionally during those years.
    After retiring, he said, “I figured I’d come back for all my old friends, but they were about all gone – had left here or died.”
    How to live a century?
    ‘Don’t worry’
    How has he lived 100 years? “I’ve lived a clean life,” he said, “I was always healthy. I live every day as it comes. I wait for it to arrive and then handle it. I don’t let it worry me. … I used to worry, but hey, I didn’t solve any problems.”
    Viorel is glad he has such a good memory. “I thank God I retained that stuff.”
    He also reported “I’m going down hill. I have two busted knees from my athletics. I played a lot of baseball on a team in Ilasco. My poor old body went through a lot. I’ve taken some terrific punches.”
    Has diet helped keep him healthy? No, Viorel said. “I ate just as crazy as anybody. I really went for sweets.” Now he can’t have sweets, he added.
    He credits being able to live alone at the age of 100 to the daily help he receives from his friends. His wife, Jean, died in 2006, and his children live in other states.
    “Steve and Sandy Terry feed me and look after me,” Viorel said. “They are really good. Sandy is the greatest woman I ever ran into in my life.”
    Jack Ryan continues to keep in touch, he said. Another friend is George Roberson, who served as his assistant boxing coach for 25 years. “George is tops,” Viorel said. “He was tough as nails. … He knows boxing – most of them are not equipped like he’s been.”
    Bill Rastofer of Columbia is also a good friend, Viorel said. “He is a terrific friend.”
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