Since the closing of The Legendary Blue Horizon TM there have been many stories printed by the Philadelphia writers. Something they seemed to omit besides the “Blue” being known for boxing was the owner of The Legendary Blue Horizon’s CEO and President Vernoca L. Michael’s “additional” work within the facility on Broad Street in Philadelphia. It will show Ray/Whitaker Inc. as the owner Ms. Michael informed me.
In sitting down with Michael at Temple University we spent hours talking about her acquiring the Blue Horizon and her many other activities. She had a list of eighty-four awards she has received over the years. Though too many to mention in one article they go back to 1962 when she received the Salesman of the Year Award in Massachusetts. The following year she received the Mayors Award in the city of Boston by John Collins. She has mentored many people young and old. She is a well- educated woman having attended Harvard University, M.I.T. with a Bachelors’ Degree from Livingstone College and Masters from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I have served 18,000 students in our program over twenty years. We have fifteen colleges in the Philadelphia area and two outside with Harvard for Doctorial Law Students and at Hampton (VA) University for Sports Management,” said Michael. The programs name was NIA KUUMBA (purpose and creativity) Learning Center at the facility. It meant “leaving the community better than when you found it”. She had to phase out the programs she ran with the closing of the facility in 2010.
Michael’s background was as Executive Director of Domestic Abuse for five years and teaching Financial Management for two years at Temple University. She was National Director for Laventhol & Horwath, the world’s number one CPA and Business Firm. She did a Prison Ministry at State Road Prison and had a Care Givers Program. Michael along with Carol Ray purchased the Blue Horizon in April of 1994. “We purchased the building from Ross Collette Associates who had years before purchased it from the Jimmy Toppi, Jr. It was then the Horizon Church,” said Michael.
Michael rented the boxing venue out to promoters J Russell Peltz of Peltz Boxing and Greg Robinson of Power Productions Boxing before deciding to start promoting herself and becoming the first black female promoter in the country in May of 2002. “I had my first show at the Blue in November of 1999 featuring Calvin Davis. I ran twelve shows from 2004 to 2009,” said Robinson.
Michael brought in the legendary matchmaker Don Elbaum to put the shows together. “Everyone wanted to fight at Madison Square Garden and the Blue Horizon. At my first meeting there was Ms. Michael and Barbara Peek along with five black businessmen. The men felt I should have a black assistant,” said Elbaum. To that Miss Michael pointing to Elbaum said “that man is blacker than anyone sitting at this table”. Needless to say Elbaum didn’t get a black assistant.
“My three favorite boxers that we promoted were Eddie Chambers, Steve Upsher (was 23-1-1) and Gee Edward Cullmer (16-1-1),” said Michael. Chambers was 18-0 at the Blue and was developed into a heavyweight contender. There have been some fifty-two former fighters from the Legendary Blue Horizon who became world champions that appeared on their shows over the years.
When I brought up the name Tex Cobb, the former world heavyweight title challenger and a man who appeared in over fifty motion pictures Michael told me he hadn’t finished his education at Abilene Christian University but graduated at Temple University Cum Laude. “Tex was our Resident Ambassador and is a great guy. He and his wife Janet (talks with her weekly) were always my guests at ringside. He was always a very good student of mine at Temple and he respected his fellow students,” said Michael.
Michael even had a Chaplain at the facility in Dr. Paul S. Hoggard to offer those in need of counseling. “I always found a place for former Philadelphia boxers and had a wardrobe of thirty-nine suits, forty-five shirts and eighty-five ties so that the boxers could come well-dressed to the fights and events she would invite them to,” said Michael.
In the last show promoted at the Blue Horizon Michael co-promoted it with Suetwdien Muhammad. “With that show I knew it was time to end the boxing. The gas bills alone were $75,000 a year,” said Michael. When asked if she thought boxing would ever return to the legendary facility she politely said “no”.
With all the stories and rumors surrounding the Blue Horizon over the years this article was meant to focus on a woman who did and still does many things for others in the community. “While on a trip to Cambodia I was offered a very lucrative deal to set up another Blue Horizon in that country in order to develop a boxing program,” said Michael. That’s how well known the Blue Horizon was known.
The top Philadelphia boxing writer George Hanson summed it up like this: Ms Michael is a great person and one of the most caring and generous people you will ever meet. I know Ms Michael’s accomplishments. We both came from major accounting firms. I was at price Waterhouse Coopers and she was the head of HR at Laventhol Horwath. Oftentimes, people form opinions without facts. I can give you countless stories of her helping fighters and young people. I admire her tenacity and courage because she never allowed anyone to walk over her. She was by far the most educated promoter in boxing and definitely the most honest and ethical. She once put three fighters on a card at the Legendary Blue Horizon because I asked her to help them. She didn’t ask them for a dollar or for them to sign a contract. She put them on the poster and asked them if they could sell ten tickets.
The boxing show case once called the best boxing facility to watch a fight in the world by Ring Magazine will only be a memory for the many boxers who fought there and the many fans who “never had a bad seat”. You don’t walk away from Michaels after a conversation without learning something! I will be nominating her for the PA Hall of fame at the end of the year. She has long belonged there!
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com
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