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Fair gave Fort Dodge youth a place to grow

Ismael Cardenas has been working toward trying to win an Iowa Golden Gloves championship, and with his last chance in sight, he knows exactly who he is doing it for now.

“One more time for Bud,” said Cardenas, a 2015 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate.

Fair, who was instrumental in keeping the Fort Dodge Boxing Club going for decades, passed away Friday at the age of 94.

Cardenas — a novice champion in 2013 who also reached the finals in 2014 and 2017 — recalls working out with Fair.

“I remember the first time going to the Boxing Club. I rang the bell three times because I thought it didn’t ring. I could see Bud walking down the stairs so slow. I’m like, ‘is that the coach?”’ Cardenas said. “And as soon has he opened the door he yelled at me, ‘Why the hell are you ringing the bell three times, you’re only supposed to ring it once.'”

As time passed, Cardenas started to find his groove and passion in the ring.

“In the beginning, he didn’t really recognize me training,” Cardenas said. :But as soon as I started sparring with the older guys and showing my skills, we got to know each other. He didn’t say much, but he made it clear that if I wasn’t doing something right, he would tell me.

“He was a great coach to me.”

About seven or eight years ago, roughly at the age of 86, Fair stepped back a little from the gym. He didn’t stay away — he just didn’t spend as much time around the ring as he had in the past.

“My dad started coming up and helping out, and Bud and my dad got to be good friends,” Cardenas said. “When Bud couldn’t drive anymore, he handed my dad the keys to the gym. My brothers, uncles and my dad would always be in the gym, and now my dad (Smiley) is running it.”

There have been countless Fort Dodge Boxing Club members through the years, and the Cardenas family is hoping to keep those dreams alive into the future — and in Bud’s memory.

“I think Bud knew it was in good hands when he handed it to my dad,” Cardenas said. “Bud would often come by or I would see him at the grocery store and we would always have a good talk. He was more than a coach.

“He was a role model because he showed all of us to be tough and become hard workers.”

Ron Walstrom, who Fair coached and later coached with, added, “the club is still alive.”

“Smiley has worked with his kids for a while now, and as Bud slowed down, Smiley came in and kept the gym going,” Walstrom said.

With one last go-round on the horizon, Cardenas remembers the man who was there for his first time — and also his last.

“In the 2014 Golden Gloves, Bud was still there with me in my corner. I believe that I was the last one he cornered,” Cardenas said. “I was honored to be his last. I lost that night, but he told me, ‘You’ll be champion next year.’

“I will always miss Bud. My brothers and cousins will always represent the Fort Dodge Boxing Club, because I knew Bud loved that.

“He will be missed.”