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Sue Wallen: Mother of the Packers


In honor of Women’s History MonthCliff Christl

If one was to pick the 25 folks most accountable for preserving the Packers alive over the course of their historical past, Sue Wallen would possibly belong someplace on that listing.

Wallen managed the Astor Hotel from about 1937 to 1947 when many, if not most, of the Packers gamers lived there through the season. Above all, she sorted them as in the event that they have been household.

Art Daley, who began protecting the Packers for the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 1942 and continued writing about them for nearly 70 years in his Green Bay Packers Yearbook and as a columnist for Packer Report, as soon as referred to Wallen “as the mother of the Packers when the Bays stayed at the Astor Hotel.”

A 3-story lodge positioned at 209 N. Adams St., in downtown Green Bay, the Astor underwent an intensive renovation in 1929 and served as a home-away-from-home for Packers gamers over the subsequent 20 years. During these years, gamers have been largely single and infrequently of their early to mid-20s. Apartments have been laborious to search out and, in fact, impractical. Players again then wanted housing for not more than three months from when preseason follow began in August till the ultimate house recreation in late October or early November; at which era, the Packers would hit the highway, touring virtually completely by practice on a season-ending highway journey with solely occasional stop-offs again in Green Bay. In the offseason, most gamers lived elsewhere.

The Astor – even in its heyday – was a no-frills lodge but additionally inexpensive, handy and cozy. It was positioned within the coronary heart of what was then a bustling downtown overflowing with eating places, retailers, bars and film theaters; and at a time when practices and crew conferences took up solely a small a part of a participant’s day and free time was plentiful. What’s extra, it was solely a mile experience to previous City Stadium and its adjoining follow areas.

But most likely extra necessary than the Astor’s atmosphere was the nurturing care and ethical help of Wallen.

“The Astor Hotel was like a fraternity house for the players, and Sue Wallen was our housemother,” Charley Brock, who performed for the Packers from 1939-47, as soon as stated.

A local of Pensaukee, Wis., an unincorporated city in Oconto County about 30 miles north of Green Bay, Wallen was near 40 years previous when she began working on the Astor within the mid-Thirties, whereas her sister, Mayme Toule, was assistant supervisor. Wallen took over working the place when her sister remarried in 1937.

At the time, the United States was nonetheless within the midst of the Great Depression and inside 4 years it will be going to warfare. Life wasn’t simple for younger professional soccer gamers, particularly these dwelling in a small, distant metropolis for the primary time, away from household and liable to occasional homesickness.

The pay wasn’t a lot both on a crew that was perpetually struggling to outlive. The wage of Larry Buhler, the Packers’ first-round draft decide in 1939 once they received their fifth NFL championship, was $2,350 (or lower than $50,000 in at this time’s cash). Even a few of the crew’s seasoned stars did not make way more. Arnie Herber was in his tenth yr of a Pro Football Hall of Fame profession and made $3,175.

The Packers received six NFL titles through the years when the Astor was what former fullback Ted Fritsch described as “our home.” And by all accounts, regardless of the low pay and different drawbacks, many of the gamers on these groups beloved enjoying in Green Bay, thanks partly to Wallen’s tender loving care.

“She was the ‘momma,'” stated the previous Ruth Toonen, a Green Bay native who married Packers star Tony Canadeo in 1943. “They all loved her. She was a wonderful lady and took very good care of them, and they knew it.”

Often, Wallen was a welcoming committee of 1 when the gamers arrived on the town.

After all, sufficient of them stayed on the Astor that Curly Lambeau would instruct them to report there earlier than the primary follow of summer season. “Suggest that new players go directly to the Astor Hotel upon arrival in Green Bay unless they have already established residence elsewhere,” he wrote his gamers on Aug. 1, 1944, 19 days earlier than the opening exercise.

Once they have been settled in, these gamers additionally shortly discovered there was much more to Wallen’s hospitality than only a smile on the door.

“She looked after us just like she was our mother,” stated finish Nolan Luhn, who performed from 1945-49. “A real nice lady. She’d talk to every one of the players every day. She’d more or less screen prank calls or whatever. She seemed about 50. Just a lovely lady. She knew every player, their mom and dad, girlfriends, whatever.”

Yet, all of the whereas, Wallen additionally had her personal hardships and tragedies to take care of.

Saddest of all, she was the divorced mom of a younger son, Earl, who would die through the assault on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Earl had enlisted within the Marine Corps in December 1939 and had written his mom a letter from Honolulu dated Nov. 27, 1941, the place he knowledgeable her that he can be serving on the U.S. Battleship California via Christmas. Sue Wallen obtained the letter at her Ashland Avenue house on Green Bay’s West Side the day earlier than the bombing.

Three days earlier than Christmas, Sue Wallen lastly discovered of her son’s loss of life at age 21. In May, 1942, she additional discovered from listening to a nationwide radio broadcast as a part of a Mother’s Day tribute that her son had died a hero.

The broadcast instructed how with Japanese planes filling the air, Earl Wallen volunteered to man a machine gun within the crow’s nest of his ship after the gunner had been killed and fired quite a few rounds of ammunition from what was described as a “perilous post” till he was killed by Japanese tracer bullets.

Over the rest of the warfare, Sue Wallen, little question with a heavy coronary heart and empathy for these serving their nation, corresponded with greater than 35 Packers who have been within the armed companies. She wrote private notes to them and included copies of Packers publicist George Whitney Calhoun’s newsletters. Center Tom Greenfield, one in every of her pen friends, and his spouse later named a daughter after Wallen.

She additionally by no means missed a Packers recreation in Green Bay through the years she labored on the Astor, all the time sitting in her 50-yard line seat.

In November 1947, Wallen married Alfred Casabona and moved to Sunbury, Pa. In its story about her marriage, the Press-Gazette wrote: “The Packers came to Mrs. Casabona with everything from heartache to buttons for her to work on. They remembered her with little gifts on special holidays and considered her their mother away from home.”

The Packers had began coaching at Rockwood Lodge in 1946 and most of the gamers lived there, as nicely. Even after Rockwood was destroyed by fireplace in early 1950, the variety of Packers who stayed on the Astor continued to dwindle. On Feb. 4, 1966, the Astor Hotel was destroyed by what was then described because the worst fireplace in Green Bay’s historical past, leaving eight folks useless.

The Press-Gazette contacted Sue Casabona in Baton Rouge, La., for remark, and she or he mirrored fondly on how Packers gamers had organized dances there, and the way followers had crammed the lodge foyer and bar after video games.

“We loved every one of those boys and everybody loved being here,” she stated. “We had so much fun in those days.”

On May 16, 1983, the previous Sue Wallen, died at Oconto Memorial Hospital at age 86 and was buried in Brookside Cemetery, close to her birthplace house. A little bit greater than seven years later, her sister, the previous Mayme Toule, additionally a very good buddy of the Packers when she labored on the Astor, died at 89 and was buried in Brookside, as nicely.

In 1944, Green Bay’s Sullivan Legion Post, which was named in honor of Thomas Sullivan, the town’s first casualty in World War I, was renamed the Sullivan-Wallen Post. Earl Wallen was the town’s first casualty of World War II.

The publish was created in 1919, the identical yr that the Packers have been based, and was a loyal supporter of the crew from the beginning. Today, the Sullivan-Wallen Post 11 nonetheless serves the town and its veterans at its house on North Irwin Street on the northeast facet of Green Bay.

As for Sue Wallen’s legacy, maybe it is the huge smiles that you simply nonetheless see at this time on the faces of Packers gamers who appear to be genuinely enriched by the group spirit she fostered way back.