By Tim Hornbaker
Ninety seven years ago, a brick building known as the “Temple of Health” was constructed in
downtown Salt Lake City that would harbor more than a dozen future professional wrestlers and
two World Heavyweight Champions. Known as the Deseret Gymnasium, the center was erected
by the Mormon Church to spread the gospel of physical fitness and competitive athletics, and
people from all walks of life made use of the venue. Age didn’t matter, nor did one’s previous
athletic background hinder their acceptance in the regular programs. Both untrained amateurs
and Olympic-caliber celebrities trained at the gymnasium, and the mentoring that went on was on
par with any facility in the country.
Literally, generations of dedicated enthusiasts worked out and benefited from the culture of
athletics at the gymnasium. Runners, swimmers, basketball players, boxers, and wrestlers were
coached by talented instructors, and learned more than just the fundamentals of each particular
sport. They were taught important lessons in life, especially regimens that fed the body and
mind. The center was vital to many working class and poor citizens who needed an outlet to
break away from their daily anxieties, and an enjoyable place to socialize with neighbors.
For more serious minded athletes, the Deseret Gym provided a supreme opportunity to further
their personal aspirations. Champion racquetball players honed their abilities on one court, while
next door, sportsmen fiercely battled in a game of handball. Tournaments were regularly staged,
and the best of the best emerged from the masses to receive acclaim and opportunities to
pursue amateur championships in both national and international competitions.
Wrestlers were coached by a top level instructor named John L. Anderson. An experienced
amateur himself dating back to the mid-1910s, Anderson was a deeply disciplined athlete, and
was admired for his many accomplishments on the mat. Cognizant of what it took to achieve
championship success, he brought a determination to the squad that only bolstered its esteem in
the Intermountain Amateur Athletic Union division. Anderson taught his pupils about
conditioning, fair play, and teamwork, establishing an exceptional camaraderie that would be
greatly beneficial in the years that followed.
The guiding light behind the wrestling and boxing franchises at the gym perhaps as early as
1921, Anderson was also a professional wrestler. Often billed as the western middleweight
champion, he was known for his aggressiveness, and, like all other Utah grapplers, was
overshadowed by the territory’s number one star, Ira Dern. Anderson was respected throughout
the state, and was considered by some to be the best wrestling coach in the Rocky Mountain
region during his tenure. He regularly coached military soldiers in the 115th Field Artillery,
instilling a basic sense for hand-to-hand combat and counter holds. No matter where he
traveled, Anderson was always willing to spread the positive attributes of grappling, and on the
lookout for potential champions.
Besides Anderson, one of the earliest members of the Deseret Gym to make waves in the
professional world was a man who actually stepped off the mat to gain his fame. He was
Raymond Verne McCullough (1892-1970), better known to enthusiasts as “R. Verne
McCullough,” the wrestling promoter. A member of the team in the early 1920s as a
featherweight, McCullough annexed a state amateur title in 1923, and reportedly captured AAU
honors six times in total. As a day job, he was an assistant county attorney in Salt Lake City, and
later a defense lawyer. By 1928, he was actively promoting boxing and grappling, and amassing
a wealth through numerous business operations, including gas stations, grocery stores, and a
bowling center in Ogden. His wrestling venue in Salt Lake, “McCullough’s Arena,” featured all of
the sport’s greats during the 1930s.
A brawny furnace mechanic named Willard Rowe “Bill” Longson (1906-1982) was welcomed onto
the gym wrestling team in 1926 and schooled by Anderson. Standing better than 6’1”, he was
gifted on the mat as well as with gloves, and his coach nurtured his skills, refining him into a
contender in both sports. Never had Anderson seen such a talented heavyweight, and Longson
would be his most successful student.
The word was out on the Salt Lake newcomer and Longson lived up to the advance hype. In the
finals of the Intermountain AAU Boxing Tournament, Bill beat stablemate Tony Clawson for a
heavyweight title on February 1927, then repeated as champion in 1928. Longson took the
heavyweight wrestling crown by gaining a decision over Dallas Richins of Utah Agricultural
College (Utah State) on March 7, 1928 at Weber Gym. He defeated Vernon Richardson on the
road to a conquest of Inman Hales of BYU on March 14, 1931 for the Intermountain AAU wrestling
title in the heavyweight division, necessitating two extra periods to secure the win. Hales would
go on to take 175 pound honors.
Shortly thereafter, Longson made his professional debut in Salt Lake City, learning from Ira Dern
and spotlighted on shows promoted by McCullough. He lost to veterans Nick Lutze and Ray
Steele, traded wins with Dean Detton, and made his bones throughout the Rocky Mountain
region. In February 1934, he ventured to Northern California and was booked by Jack Ganson
and Dan Koloff, then shuttled across the country to New England to work for promotional wizard
Paul Bowser. Heading toward bigger and better paydays, Longson’s career was nearly cut short
when he was on the receiving end of a splash from the 300-plus pound Man Mountain Dean on
January 5, 1937 in San Francisco.
Initially paralyzed from the waist down, Longson made a stunning recovery and returned to
wrestling in October 1937. The kindhearted Joe Malcewicz, who had replaced Ganson and
Koloff, helped the Longson Family while Bill was out of commission, and in 1938, gave him his
biggest push to date. Under a hood as the Purple Shadow, Longson stomped out his
competition, and rose up to the Pacific Coast Heavyweight Title, a championship he won on three
occasions. In 1941, he depart California for the Tom Packs circuit out of St. Louis, and the
territory’s booking was built around his work as a heel. Things really took off from there.
On February 19, 1942, he beat Sandor Szabo in St. Louis for the first of three National Wrestling
Association World Heavyweight Titles. Longson flourished from Houston to Montreal, and set
attendance records in numerous cities. When the calendar flipped from 1949 to 1950, it was
clear that “Wild” Bill was the biggest draw of the 1940s, and his ability to shine against a vast
range of opponents made his run exceptionally memorable. While Longson’s eventual impact on
the pro wrestling business wasn’t clear to John Anderson at the time, he knew by their training
sessions at the Deseret facility that he had someone truly special in his midst.
Interestingly, Longson’s cousin Joseph also went to the facility to train. Born around 1910 in
Utah to Charles and Edith Longson, Joe competed at 126 pounds around 1935, and was later
booked as the heavyweight champion’s brother by promoters trying to cash in on Bill’s fame. He
taught wrestling at the gymnasium and for the Salt Lake City police department, and wrestled on
small shows in Utah and Idaho. He died in 1969.
Hyrum Joseph Scharman (1907-1992) trained at the gymnasium in the 1927-’28 time-frame.
Born in Salt Lake City to German parents, Scharman wrestled as “Hy Sharman,” and competed in
several amateur tournaments at 147 pounds. He had turned pro by May 1929, and was often
billed as the welterweight champion of the west. In 1933, newspapers referred to him as a
claimant to the “World” Welterweight Champion, and Sharman wrestled the likes of Jack
Reynolds, Earl “Wildcat” McCann, Floyd Hansen, Al Boyd, Rod Fenton, Tex Hager, and had a
series of bouts with both Dave Reynolds and Ralph Morley. Regularly wrestling as a heel,
Sharman was compared to Ira Dern, one of his mentors, and by the 1940s, was grappling as a
heavyweight. Outside of wrestling, he was a firefighter and a professional painter.
Following his departure from the University of Utah, where he excelled as a football player and in
wrestling, Dean Henry Detton (1908-1958) joined the Salt Lake gym and was coached by
Anderson. Already an accomplished athlete, Detton honed his wrestling abilities, and on March
29, 1930, beat Amos Stephens for the Intermountain AAU wrestling championship at 175
pounds. Additionally, he captured the heavyweight title with a forfeit victory. Motivated to follow
in the footsteps of Dern and Anderson, Detton turned professional in February 1931, and worked
his way out to the California coast in 1933.
Like Longson, Detton was praised for his smooth transition into the big time, and exhibited his
cat-like reflexes and sound repertoire of maneuvers in Los Angeles before leading booker
“Toots” Mondt. Mondt took a liking to Detton, noting his ability to shoot, and saw a spot for him in
the development of the Southern California scene during the mid-1930s. They were also
booking the territory behind Vincent Lopez, a product of Idaho.
On February 28, 1936, Detton beat Ed “Strangler” Lewis in the finals of an international
tournament in Philadelphia. He was considered by some as a replacement for undisputed
champion by members of the “Trust,” but Dick Shikat’s double-cross altered all plans. Mondt’s
plan to make Detton a titleholder came to fruition on September 28 when the Utah grappler
dethroned Dave Levin in Philadelphia. In trying to make Detton a national superstar, the
syndicate propped him up in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, but the industry was failing in
many territories. Mondt hoped that Bronko Nagurski would do a little bit better as king of the
heavyweights, and on June 30, 1937 in Minneapolis, Detton lost the championship to the ex-pro
footballer. An avid golfer, he retired from grappling around 1951 and owned “Dean Detton’s Turf
Club” at 517 Castro Street in Hayward, California.
Joseph Detton (1906-1975), known by his middle name “Reed,” was Dean’s older brother, and
captained the University of Utah’s wrestling squad in 1929-’30. In 1931, he trained with Anderson
and the Deseret team, and then turned professional later in the year, wrestling as a welterweight
on the undercard of shows that featured his brother and Longson. He moved to Hawaii, where
he lived for 40 years, and wrestled sparsely on programs in Honolulu. A year and a half after
returning to the mainland, he was killed in a tractor accident in California.
Three other Detton Brothers, of the eleven total siblings, wrestled professionally, and may have,
at one time or another, trained at the Deseret Gymnasium. Lawrence Eugene “Gene” Detton
was the youngest child of Joseph and Hilva, born in January 1929 in Twin Falls County, Idaho.
He turned pro around 20 years of age and wrestled throughout the 1950s, helping his brother
Dory in the Amarillo promotion. He is currently living in West Texas. Glen Johnson Detton (1921-
1997) wrestled as a light heavyweight on the Southwest and Northwestern circuits. He became
an ordinance worker at the Salt Lake City Temple. Dory Detton (1912-1991) wrestled for about
20 years, even claiming a version of the World Light Heavyweight Title in 1939, then operated a
circuit for the National Wrestling Alliance during the 1950s out of Amarillo.
Another family to make waves in wrestling with ties to the famous Salt Lake club was the Hansen
Family. Wilford Claude “Bill” Hansen (1909-1968) and his older brother Hyrum Floyd were active
in the amateur program in the early 1930s. Bill grappled as a heavyweight, while Floyd
competed in the 145 pound division. Within a short time, they both turned to the pro game, and
by 1936, Bill was in Los Angeles headlining at the Olympic Auditorium. The Utah-Idaho-Colorado
region was a breading ground for talent, booker “Toots” Mondt realized, and imported Detton,
Lopez, and now Hansen, plus the Zahariases and Brother Jonathan. On October 21, 1936,
Hansen wrestled fellow Deseret alumni Dean Detton at the Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Nicknamed “Sliding,” Hansen learned a great deal from Ira Dern and Hans Steinke. He worked
with Jim Londos in New York City, and headlined up and down the west coast, scoring the Pacific
Coast Heavyweight Title at least four times for Joe Malcewicz in San Francisco. In later years, he
owned a tavern in the Oakland area. Floyd wrestled for more than ten years, grappling on non-
heavyweight cards, and quietly disappeared from the business. A third brother, Chris Delbert
“Bert” Hansen also trained at the Deseret Gym, and competed in amateur tournaments as a
heavyweight around 1935. Bert turned professional and like many of his friends, wrestled on
local shows for extra money.
The Longsons, Dettons and Hansens were all involved in the famous Salt Lake gym and pro
wrestling. There was a fourth family that had ties to both. Kenneth H. Mayne (1915-1992) won
an Intermountain AAU wrestling championship (145 lbs) under John Anderson in 1934, and
trained with his younger brother Donald. Kenny was involved in pro grappling for upwards of 30
years, in different capacities, and mentored his talented son Ronald Mayne (1943-1978), who
gained fame as “Moondog” Mayne. Wrestling sporadically during the 1930s and ’40s on regional
programs, Don is still living in Salt Lake City today.
Anderson coached another naturally talented athlete, a 115 pound amateur named Delbert
Wallace Kunkel (1905-1980). Kunkel, a plumber by trade, joined the gymnasium and trained
alongside Longson and Bill Hansen. He was taking a paycheck to wrestle by 1933, and slowly he
rose through the weight classes, claiming synthetic championships in each: welterweight (1933),
middleweight (1935), light heavyweight (1936), junior heavyweight (1936), and finally a claimant
to the “western heavyweight” title (1940). In 1937, he received several shots at Dean Detton’s
world heavyweight belt in Salt Lake City, and the contests drew sizable numbers. A genuine
shooter, Del was often a top challenger to the heavyweight crown when the titleholder appeared
in Utah, and many thought he would have gotten a stretch with the championship if he was bigger
Among the other known Deseret alumni to turn to the pro ranks were Albert Boyd, Verne Taft,
and Roger MacKay. The Salt Lake City amateur scene produced numerous other professionals,
among them being Danny Savich, Jack Christensen, Jack Reed, Fred McKenzie, Cal Herman,
George Nelson, and Ira Dern. It is very likely that, at one time or another, they worked out at the
For AAU sponsored events, Anderson prepared his wrestling team for meets against teams from
the University of Utah, University of Idaho at Pocatello, Utah Agricultural, B.Y.U., Weber Junior
College, various regional high schools and athletic clubs, and a host of unattached athletes.
Despite the heavy competition, his products were frequently in the hunt for amateur titles.
Owning a degree from the Deseret Gymnasium signed by principal Anderson meant several
things. First of all, it indicated that the wrestler had been thoroughly disciplined in all facets of
amateur grappling. It denoted that the grappler was coached in the science of shooting and
hooking, and drilled extensively in grueling workout sessions that would have broken the average
sportsman. And finally, it meant that the individual was fully capable of taking his craft to the next
level, and performing in rings before thousands of spectators. Beyond these realities, the
members of John Anderson’s wrestling squad formed lifelong friendships and an eternal bond to
a gymnasium in Salt Lake City that gave them their roots in athletics.
Contributions to this article were made by Dick Longson and researchers Don Luce, Steve Yohe
and Mark Hewitt.
|The Deseret Gymnasium: Utah’s Gateway to the Pro Ranks