Todd Sommerfeldt: Baron von Raschke's place in my history (with video)

Todd Sommerfeldt: Baron von Raschke's place in my history (with video)

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My family had a Sunday routine when I was a kid.

Aside from a few details, however, it wasn’t a specific one.

Sometimes we went to church, and sometimes we didn’t. My brother, Chris, and I might get time to spend with friends, but not always.

The majority of the day was spent with extended family at my grandma and grandpa’s farm that was about a 30-minute drive from Janesville, Wis. My mom has two brothers and a sister, and their families went there, too.

There were times we had enough to play a full softball game — I know because we did — if the weather was nice, and there were plenty of things for us kids to do to keep busy.

There was a big lunch and supper and, as you could guess when considering a house full of people from Wisconsin, a Packers game to watch.

But none of that happened until grandpa — and anyone else who wanted to join him — was done watching All-Star Wrestling. I always joined him. So did Chris.

We had to see what Bobby Heenan was going to complain about, hear about Jesse Ventura’s tales of hanging out with the Rolling Stones and find out who Mad Dog Vachon was going to tear apart limb by limb.

Grandpa — his name was Vernon, but everyone called him Bud — watched for the Crusher. That was his guy.

But there was another guy who always got a reaction from Grandpa, and all he had to do was appear on the television screen to get it. That was Baron von Raschke.

“Here comes the Baron!” he would say as he slapped the arm of his green leather chair.

The 6-foot-3, bald, goose-stepping Baron was unpredictable. All you knew was that he was going to be loud, look like a maniac and make someone’s day miserable by ending them with the Claw.

It was as fun to watch him with my grandpa back in the 1980s as it was to talk to him last Friday night at the Roy L. Vingers American Legion Post 52 in La Crosse.

Jim Raschke was here as part of a River City Championship Wrestling show. His main role was to greet fans and provide memories of the night through pictures and autographs, but even at the age of 78, he had to get involved with a match on the card and slap the Claw on an unsuspecting participant who had gone too far.

Raschke arrived around 5 p.m. and entered the building through the side door as promotion personnel set up for the show. He and Bonnie, his wife of 50 years and sometimes addressed by her husband as Mrs. Claw, made the drive from their home in Hastings, Minn.

They took their spots at a white table and set up stacks of photos that awaited signatures as a couple of the local wrestlers introduced themselves and passed along hellos from mutual friends.

Moments later, the soft-spoken Minnesotan — by way of Omaha, Neb. — was the Baron and talking about friends like Heenan and Vachon, both of whom were big draws in their own rights as the AWA traveled through Minnesota and Wisconsin. Vachon, one of the Baron’s tag-team partners, passed away in 2013. Heenan, once his manager, passed away in 2017.

As we discussed the past, I started to wonder about the present and its reaction to what Raschke, an accomplished amateur wrestler who qualified for the Olympic team after playing football at the University of Nebraska, had accomplished as a performer.

What do fans ask the Baron when they get his autograph or have a picture taken?

“They don’t really ask questions,” Bonnie said. “It’s mostly them telling him stories about things they remember him doing.”

About watching him win the AWA tag team championship with the Crusher? About the many times he fought against and alongside AWA mainstay Jerry Blackwell, who stood less than 6 feet tall and weighed more than 450 pounds?

“It’s usually someone telling me they used to watch me with their grandma or grandpa,” he said with a smile.

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