Pat Emerick put up her dukes, won 18 boxing matches, lost 1
HARTSVILLE--"Put one foot in front of the other. Be prepared," says Pat Lancaster Landreth, if you want to succeed in the boxing ring.
Landreth, 85, who was known as Pat Emerick in 1949 when she won the Ladies World Boxing Association championship title, might offer the same advice when it comes to facing the adversities of life.
The woman, who gave birth to 11 children and inherited four stepchildren (she considers them all her children), is a true survivor. Not only as a pioneer female pugilist. She dealt tenaciously with a car crash at the age of 20 that nearly put out her lights. She grieved over the death of her husband of 39 years and repeated the process with the loss of her second mate. And these days, she often wears pink, a visible statement that she's given breast cancer her best one-two punch.
"I've never lost my faith. People ask me, 'Don't you get lonesome?' I'm never really alone," said the true believer, who lives by herself a few miles outside of Hartsville. "I have faith, and God has been with me so many times."
Born Arvilla Emerick on Feb. 26, 1931, in Mishawaka, Indiana, the girl nicknamed "Pat" grew up in South Bend, Indiana, with five brothers and three sisters. Her dad drove a truck, and her mom taught English and music and played the piano.
Recruited to box while a ticket taker
As a youth she skipped out on organized sports but enjoyed softball, roller skating, snow sledding and bowling with her siblings and friends. Later, she took her first job as a ticket taker at The Strand movie theater in South Bend.
"That's where I was approached by a promoter. He didn't know me from Adam. He had a gym," Landreth recollected. "He asked me if I would like to be a lady boxer? I thought, 'Hey, I was raised with five brothers. I know how to take care of myself.'"
And so the 17-year-old lass, who stood 5-foot-4 and weighed 123 pounds, said yes.
"I started training during the day and worked at a bakery at night. I did a lot of running at Notre Dame. I ran five miles a day on the railroad tracks. I hit the punching bag, jumped rope and was sparring in the ring.
"I had man sparring partners. This was back in 1949 when women had voting rights and that was about it. To be a lady boxer, we thought this would open the door for other women. We did. The men treated us fair. They accepted us and were willing to help us."
18-0 after first bout loss
She turned 18.
"I had my first fight and lost it," Landreth remembers of that bout held in South Bend's Palais Royale Auditorium.
She wore Notre Dame blue and gold Everlast trunks, a white turtleneck sleeveless blouse, white tennis shoes and socks and an invisible hairnet during her maiden match.
"I was prepared. Being the first fight, I was young and had a case of nerves and the jitters. I like to blame it on that. After that 18 more--all wins."
The majority of her fights were held in her hometown, but she also boxed in Indiana, Nebraska and Iowa. She reckons she made $200 to $250 per match. And one night before a bout, she met male boxing champions Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, a nice perk.
"We did a lot of benefits for widows and children of firefighters and policemen. There were tremendous crowds. It was something new," she recalled.
'Hit harder than any man'
"I was fighting a bout. I had a cousin who said, 'You don't know how to box oranges.' I told him, 'In what round would you like her in your lap?' The opponent had bitten me, and as I got ready to hit her and knock her through the ropes into his lap, the referee stepped in between, so I hit him. I'm sorry but he did not have the right to stop me. He said later that I hit him harder than any man," she smiled.
In November 1949 she fought JoAnn Hagan (Verhaegen) for the Ladies World Boxing Association championship in Council Bluffs, Iowa, before a crowd of 4,000.
"It was a six-round match, and she wouldn't come out for the fourth round. She said, 'I'm not going back out there.' I won by a TKO. It was wonderful," said Landreth, who received a trophy and a swell boxing sweater from the Indiana Golden Gloves Boxing Association.
'He was covered in blood'
Less than a year later, tragedy struck. While riding one evening with some girlfriends, their car crashed and piece of the roof cut her face and body and sliced arteries in her wrist and head.
"The Lord was with me. The Indiana State Police were there within minutes," she remembered. "I would have bled to death if the patrolman had not put pressure on my wrist and face. He rode to the hospital and never let go. He was covered in blood.
"Later, he stood outside the door, and I asked the nurse why he was still there. I found out later, he was waiting to write in his report that I had died. The doctor didn't know I was a boxer. That was what kept me alive. I was in good shape."
A week later gangrene set in, and the doctors wanted to amputate a leg. Her mother would not let them take it.
"I stayed nine weeks, four days and one hour in the hospital and went home," Landreth said. "But the leg was not healing. I went back into the hospital. I has seven surgeries. It took me 13 months to learn to walk again. They fused the left leg. I cannot bend it."
Her boxing days were finished.
"I retired with the championship. I went back to work and never stopped working," said the champ.
'All 15 children graduated from Gordonsville High'
In 1955, she made the acquaintance of Robert "Bob" Lancaster, a native of Lancaster in Smith County, who was operating a bulldozer, helping construct a toll road.
"We met at birthday party. I didn't even like him," she grinned. "He got my telephone number, and we went on a date. He said, 'Yes, ma'am. No ma'am.' Such good manners."
They married Oct. 22, 1955, and had four children in Indiana.
"In 1959, we moved to Lancaster, Tennessee. I think we put them on the map," she kidded.
In Tennessee they produced seven more children.
"I have six sons, five daughters and four stepchildren," Landreth tallied, "and 22 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. And I'm proud of the fact that all 15 children graduated from Gordonsville High School."
Survived two husbands
In 1977 she and Bob bought a farm on Pea Ridge in Chestnut Mound. They were married for 39 years, until his death in 1994.
Seven years later she went on a blind date with Bill "Big D" Landreth, who coached the girls' basketball team at Smith County High School for years. They married and made their home in New Middleton for three years. Then Coach Landreth died on Feb. 28, 2003, two weeks to the day after the Smith County gymnasium had been dedicated in his honor.
After Mr. Lancaster's death, Pat had sold their farm and moved into her home near Hartsville. She returned to this place after Coach Landreth's passing and has resided here since.
"I take care of grand babies and mostly great-grandchildren. The grandchildren are old enough to take care of themselves. I clean house. Anything I can do to help my family," said Landreth.
"I'm over 85 and in good shape. My children and grandchildren keep me in shape. They keep on picking on me."
Nine of her 11 birth children live in Smith County. One lives nearby and the other in LaVergne.
Gardener and 'Ellen' fan
For years she has enjoyed flowers. "I planted all the rose bushes and flowers in this yard, mulched, did everything. This year the children said, 'Mom, we're gonna do it for you.' I said, 'OK.'"
While retaining her membership with Lancaster Methodist Church, Landreth said she was no longer driving. "I can drive but only to the mailbox."
When not babysitting or house cleaning or cooking, she watches "The Bold and the Beautiful," westerns and Dick Van Dyke in "Diagnosis Murder" on TV. She's got a bucket list: to meet the Pope, be on "The Price Is Right" and meet Ellen DeGeneres.
Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.