A few minutes before the meeting got underway, Tony Napoli, gold pinky ring flashing, signed copies of his mobster-filled autobiography My Father, My
Don. A group of old timers hovered around the appetizer table, loading up
on toothpick-speared meatballs, and former World Middleweight Boxing
Champion Vito Antuofermo, mini-Golden Gloves dangling from his neck, worked
the room, which hummed with the accent of old New York.
Things could have gone on like that for hours, for there was much
backslapping and catching up to do, but Matt Farrago had to call the meeting
to order. And if the Pledge of Allegiance didn’t get everyone’s attention,
then his tapping his water glass ten times, in honor of members of Ring 8, the
International Veterans Boxers Association of New York, Inc., who had died since last month’s meeting, certainly did.
It was a sobering reminder of why they’d gathered in this darkened
backroom of a Maspeth, Queens, restaurant: “Boxers helping Boxers.”
That’s been the idea behind the association since it was founded more than half a century ago.
The first item on the agenda last Tuesday night was the funeral
of Jackie “Tonawanda” Garrett (pictured, via Boxing Confidential) the first female to box in Madison Square
Garden and be granted a boxing license by New York State.
At the end of their careers, most ex-fighters find themselves without a pension, health insurance, or any kind of safety net. That’s where Ring 8 comes in.
“She needs to be buried with dignity, not in Potter’s Field,” Farrago told
the crowd of some 40 people.
Over the years, Ring 8’s membership has included legends of the sport, such
as Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Graziano, and Jack Dempsey, as well as many
other well-known boxers, trainers and managers.
Help from the group has included not only the cost of funeral expenses, but also housing, phone bills, food, and prescription medicine, even for boxers who were once very successful, like current member Emile Griffith.
By the meeting’s end, another $500 was raised for Garrett, bringing the total donated by the association to some $2000.
Thanks to them, the former boxer was buried in a marked grave in the Bronx on Saturday.