Saturday, June 6 will be “Bernie Boyle Appreciation Day” at the Knights of Columbus Hall, and I’ll be honest.
The first time I encountered Bernie Boyle, I wasn’t a big fan.
We were lifting weights and shooting hoops at the Knights of Columbus back in the late 1980s, and Bernie was the strict guy in a Packers hat making sure we weren’t having too much fun.
By that, I mean, Bernie saw to it that us teenagers followed the rules and didn’t do anything that might possibly damage the building he held so dear to his heart or to bother the paying members who were trying to work out.
My younger brother, his friends, some of my friends and I couldn’t get away with anything that didn’t involve playing basketball by the rules or responsibly using the equipment in the weight room.
Sure, Bernie was always good for giving us a second, a third and maybe even a 50th chance. But he was always there to make sure we didn’t get out of hand, threatening to give us the boot.
It was like there was 37 Bernies roaming the KC. He was everywhere, keeping an eye on that historic building.
Later, I came to understand why Bernie was so strict about the KC. Still, I wasn’t on the Bernie Boyle bandwagon because he was the biggest Packer backer out of the large group of Packers fans at the KC. They were almost all Packers fans at that place during Brett Favre’s reign of terror on my Chicago Bears.
The Bears were hopeless back then, and the Packers were on top of the world with Favre. Even in the offseason, seeing Bernie and his KC was a reminder of the dark, dark days of the football season.
To me, it was like Bernie was the figure head of those Packers I hated so much. He was Mr. Green Bay Packers.
Then, a funny thing happened. I actually got to know Bernie Boyle. To say that I really like him doesn’t do it justice. If I’m not the president of the Bernie Boyle Fan Club, I am at least on the board of directors.
Nobody does more for this town than Bernie, and he does so much of it behind the scenes. Not only does he shy away from the spotlight, he will fight you to avoid it.
For one thing, Bernie has introduced so many kids to the love of basketball by organizing and running the Saturday morning youth basketball league at the KC’s Felix Madrazo Gymnasium. He has run the league for the last 25 years.
Because he wasn’t feeling too well, Bernie, a retired firefighter, decided he was going to step aside this past season and have somebody else run the league. He searched and searched for his replacement before he finally found the only person who could possibly fill his shoes. Himself.
Once again this past winter, Bernie was there on Saturday mornings to make sure the hoops were set at about 7 feet for the younger players, make sure everyone played, make sure the ball hogs didn’t hog too much and make sure everyone got a chance to shoot.
He also made sure everyone had fun.
Bernie’s salary for 25 years of running the league has now reached a grand total of zero dollars, and that was perfectly OK for a man whose only selfish thoughts include hoping the Packers win on Sunday.
Without question, the KC, which is one of the great treasures of the Mining City, would not be open today without Bernie, who was also instrumental in the Babe Ruth baseball league for many years.
A while back Bernie had surgery to replace his knee. While he was laid up, the guys at the KC realized that 37 Bernies really were working at the KC. It took almost that many to take care of the chores Bernie did by himself every day.
Back in 2007, I started referring to Bernie, behind his back, as “Saint Bernard” after his pal Tim Norbeck filled me in on the story of how Bernie took 15 kids from Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Butte to Salt Lake City to watch the Utah Jazz play a playoff game against the Lakers.
Norbeck had to tell me about it because Bernie, who truly lives up to that nickname, would never take credit for such a thing.
A few years before that, I ran into Bernie, who was in his firefighter uniform, while eating at the M&M. He sat next to me and told me about a dream he had for Butte Central to build its own gym to play and practice.
Today, not only do the Maroons have a beautiful facility, the Maroon Activities Center is a place that benefits the entire community, whether its members realize it or not.
If it wasn’t for Bernie, East Mercury Street would just be a bare piece of land, and tournament goers would take their money to other towns ever February and March.
Also, over the last several years, Bernie and his friend Jim Michelotti have turned the Knights of Columbus into perhaps the best sports museum this side of the Mississippi. Really, go check it out if you haven’t already.
The two put in so many hours to plaster the walls with old-time Butte sports photos and monuments. You could spend a weekend in there and only get through half of those historic gems.
The pay for Bernie and Jim, like always, wasn’t in money. It comes in the satisfaction they get from seeing the members of the community lose themselves in the memories on the walls.
To list all of the things Bernie has done for the people of Butte would take forever. It also might not be possible.
So at 6 p.m. on June 6, the KC will host a party to honor all of Bernie’s tireless work and recognize his upcoming induction into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame. If every person whose life was touched by Bernie shows up, the building won’t be big enough.
The Butte Civic Center wouldn’t be big enough.
A plaque in Bernie’s honor will adorn the wall of the Civic Center after the induction ceremony, but, really, it won’t even begin to tell the story of Bernie.
The true monument for Bernie Boyle stands on the corner of Park and Idaho Street in Uptown Butte.
The Knights of Columbus Hall, and all of the people who got to and still get to use the historic building because of Bernie, are the real tribute to a truly great man.
That even goes for the teenagers who should have probably been kicked out.