By Pete Ehrman, Special to   Published Apr 02, 2010 at 1:01 PM

Sixty years ago when Big Dave Ragus knocked out three guys to win the Wisconsin Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, about 16,000 fans crowded the Milwaukee Auditorium for the annual amateur boxing tournament.

Plenty has changed since then. When the three-night state Golden Gloves tournament starts next Saturday at Memorial Hall of Racine, they'll be lucky to get a tenth as many customers. There were about 200 boxers entered in 1950; now 60 is a bumper crop. The Milwaukee Journal sponsored the event back then, but the local daily newspaper gives it scant coverage today.

The town of Granville where Dave Ragus grew up was rural. Now it's Brown Deer, a northern suburb of Milwaukee.

He's 83 now, with a heart pacemaker and other physical problems that have slowed him down. But at least one thing hasn't changed.

"I could still fight if I have to," says Big Dave, and since a fighter's punch is the last thing to go it will take someone braver than me to dispute the man who owns the record for the fastest knockout ever recorded in Wisconsin boxing -- 18 seconds, including the 10 it took to count the other guy out.

An alumnus of Custer high school who played tackle on the varsity football team, Ragus joined the US Army after graduation and became a paratrooper. Stationed in Japan, he was a member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's honor guard and once inadvertently parachuted through the roof of a house. He got started in boxing when there was a tournament and he was drafted as his unit's heavyweight because at 6'4" and more than 200 lbs., "I was the biggest guy in the outfit."

After he returned home and won the Golden Gloves, Ragus was working out at the Eagles Club gym on 24th and Wisconsin when Doc Gulas, a Milwaukee dentist who managed fighters and promoted fights on the side, noticed him hefting 100-lb. weights like they were made out of Styrofoam. Convincing Big Dave that he had a future in the ring was easier than pulling teeth.

Within a couple years, Ragus fought his way up from preliminary bouts to main-events, boxing at the Auditorium, the Ron-de-Voo on 12th and North Ave., and the South Side Armory on S. 6th St.

"I was a heavy slugger," he says. "I could really punch." Especially with his big right hand. When it caught a boxer called Rocky Love behind the ear, wrote Bob Teague in The Journal, "he slid down Ragus like a fireman down a pole and was counted out after 1:51 of the second" round.

At the South Side Armory, Ragus flattened Oscar Seremian in two rounds in 1951. According to Big Dave's wife, Marge, once in a while he still gets what she calls "the Seremian Look" on his face, and then it's a good idea to give him some space.

Married in 1957, Big Dave and Marge met at the Eagles Club, where Big Dave liked to dance to the big bands that played in the ballroom even more than he liked hitting people in the head. Marge attended lots of his fights and was always nervous -- for the other guys.

"I was scared when they were knocked out, that's for sure," she says.

She wasn't the only one scared when Ragus felled Earl Lumpkins with his first punch in their main-event at the Ron-de-Voo on March 16, 1954. After the fight ended 18 seconds after the opening bell, Lumpkins went to the hospital for observation. It took almost five minutes to wake Bing Roberts after Big Dave put him to sleep in two rounds at the Auditorium five months later.

"Ragus simply kept walking in and throwing his big fists, missing two out of three punches," wrote Bob Teague in The Journal. "But that third one -- ouch! The knockout was Ragus' fifth in a row and his sixth straight victory."

So Gulas brought in Bert Whitehurst from Baltimore, a well-known heavyweight with his own big right hand punch. This time it was Big Dave's lights that went out, in the third round of the Auditorium fight. "Referee Milt Goldstein could have counted to 22," wrote Teague.

"It's a tough racket," says Ragus, who won three of his last four bouts and then worked at American Motors and drove a truck for Tews Cement. In 1961, Big Dave and Marge bought 10 acres in Muskego, and he built their sprawling home himself, using timber from farms and barns torn down when the Rock freeway was laid down.

As an amateur boxer he dreamed in gold, but now Big Dave's dreams are all brass. He may be the world's champion when it comes to collecting anything made out of the copper and zinc alloy. His house is packed with brass knick-knacks, sculptures and everything else he could find at rummage sales and 7-Mile Fair, which he still haunts when the weather is good.

"It's kind of a nice metal. It's artistic," says Ragus, waving that artistic but steely right mitt.