BUTTE -- Korean War veteran. Practicing attorney. District Judge. School Board member. Those are just a handful of the titles John “Jack” Whelan held throughout his 90 years of life, but one of his greatest contributions to Butte was bringing American Legion Baseball to town.
Whelan passed away Saturday in Butte.
“He spent the better part of 50 years of his life dedicating it to Butte American Legion Baseball," said Butte head baseball coach Jeff LeProwse.
LeProwse had the pleasure of knowing Whelan for most of his life. He grew up playing Legion Baseball in Butte and can’t help but chuckle thinking about his first impression of Whelan.
"The first time I met Jack was as a player in the late '80s, early '90s, when he was involved," said LeProwse. "I kind of had different thoughts of him then. He was kind of frugal, to be honest, with our equipment and that kind of stuff.”
It didn’t take long for his opinion to change.
“Of course when you’re a player, you don’t really look at the people behind the scenes as much, but when you look back and think of all the things he did and all the things he accomplished with our program, he basically did it all -- raising all the money, buying all the uniforms, feeding all the players, getting them to all the tournaments and the games, making sure the fields were ready to play," added LeProwse. "He was really the guy who did everything for Butte.”
His involvement with the program stretched much further than managing the team’s budget.
"When I first became a coach he was running the concession stand and taking tickets and doing everything that no one wants to do. He was the guy that held it together," LeProwse said.
He held every job you could think of within the program to keep Butte Legion Baseball afloat financially. While that may have seemed 'frugal’ to LeProwse as a player, it became one of his favorite memories as a head coach.
"The best memory ever is being into his late 70s or 80s and still out there chasing foul balls just to save a few bucks," chuckled LeProwse. "He didn’t like to spend much, so he’d go out there and little kids would be out there playing with balls that got fouled out outside the stadium, and he’d go give them a quarter or do whatever he could to get that ball back.”
Whelan's contributions to Butte baseball were honored in 2017 during the naming of new baseball park "3 Legends Stadium," which was named after Whelan and two other longtime supporters of American Legion baseball in Butte, Jim “Fonz” Hanley and Jack Cavanaugh.
“It’s just amazing to me that he found that much time to volunteer for all these different things that he had a passion for," LeProwse said. "I don’t know if we’ll ever find another person who is able to do that. I don’t know how he found the time to be involved in so many things and make a difference in so many people’s lives. I’m just amazed at the commitment and passion he had for the things that he loved.”