John Pesek is known to many as one of the world's great wrestlers. And his home was Ravenna, Nebraska.
"John was born in 1896 or 1893," John Pesek's grandson Geoff Pesek said. "We were never able to find out when he was born, but he was born on the plains of Nebraska."
As a kid, Pesek fished and hunted, and he would also wrestle. Turns out, he was really good at it. "He wasn't a huge guy, but he was very strong, very quick, and he also knew the wrestling holds. He knew how to use his weight to his advantage," Geoff Pesek said.
John Pesek rose to prominence in 1917 and 1918, when he began to beat some of the world's biggest wrestling stars. His career flourished in the 1920's and 1930's. "He made a world trip to Australia in 1929, and that was probably the zenith of his career. The stadiums would be filled with 20,000 to 30,000 people. That was when he was in his prime," Geoff Pesek said.
John Pesek was known for his speed, quickness, and strength on the mat. He was a tough opponent. "I think he was kind of mean. An old wrestler told me that he wrestled with a lot of the folks that John wrestled with, and he said one of the men they didn't want to get into the ring with was John Pesek," Geoff Pesek said. "They never quite knew what to expect."
The heyday of John Pesek's wrestling career has been over for a very long time. But relatives say that if the media had been around at the time of John Pesek like it is now, he would be compared to sports figures like Muhammad Ali. He was in all of the newspapers. "Geoff and I have done all of this research in the 30's and 40's, and about every week there was something about John," granddaughter Valerie Behrendt said.
John Pesek went on to have a family, and his grandchildren, like Valerie Berhendt, remember him well. "I would like to mention his wife, our grandma. Her name was Myrl, and she was a hometown girl and a school teacher in the little community of Poole. "We regret there is no wedding picture, because they took off immediately via train for a wrestling event," Behrendt said. "It's kind of a regret, but we have that beautiful picture of her with her first child."
Grandson Geoff Pesek says people in Ravenna still remember his grandpa. There's a statue dedicated to John Pesek on main street in town. And, people still remember the gold Cadillac that he would drive around town. "Towards the end of his life he had a 1975 gold Cadillac I believe it was, and it was a block long," Geoff Pesek said. "He would drive around town at five miles an hour, and he'd drive up to people and say "boy, come here", and he'd get them a pop. He called everybody "boy", cause he couldn't remember their names. People still remember that."
Goeff Pesek has put together a book on his grandpa's life. It's called "The Nebraska Tigerman: The John Pesek Story". He includes not only stories about his wrestling career, but John Pesek's interest in Greyhounds. "During one of his trips to Australia, he brought a Greyhound back. It was a better sire than a racer. That dog is the grand-daddy of all the Greyhounds that are racing in the U.S. today," Geoff Pesek said.
"I regret that I didn't ask him more stories, I was certainly old enough. I mean you think these people are always going to be here, and suddenly they are not," Behrendt said. "They called him the tiger, because he was agile like the big cats."
Although some of John Pesek's notoriety has faded, he will always be remembered in Ravenna. It's the place that a world-famous wrestler called home.