THE TRUE HISTORY OF
BIG JIM HAWBAKER
Big Jim Hawbaker is a fictional character created by Gary Swetland
in 1982 for a class project of Boomer Connell, while both were attending Canisius College in Buffalo,
Gary and Boomer (along with fellow Golden Griffin Mark Jaekle)
were 1979 graduates of Portville Central
School who grew up playing football and running track together. They
were also key members of Pan-Con, a filming group that produced several movies during high school.
Boomer’s 1982 college assignment of producing a radio show
brought the three friends together for what they called, “Big Jim Hawbaker’s Backwoods Huntin’ Lodge”.
Recollects Boomer, “Back at Canisius, we would hang out
with all the guys in the cafeteria or in the dorm lounges, and Gary
would start telling hunting stories from Portville. Often, he would attract dozens of students who would listen to him go
on and on as this Southern Tier hunting expert. And Gary would
tell it with this unique voice that was a combination of Jim Steinbacher, his grandfather, Ed Swetland, and his dad Wimp.”
“Everyone would be laughing their butts off, falling on
the floor, gathered around to hear Gary tell these impromptu
stories. He would take over the room and the parties acting like this Big Jim character. He became a legend.”
Jaekle notes, “It was unbelievable. Everyone knew about
Portville and Gary got really good at being this character,
which he later named Big Jim Hawbaker for the radio show we did.”
As Connell tells it, the three college boys got together and came
up with this story that would highlight Big Jim, and it was all recorded in the studio as a 25-minute radio show “class
Basically, the story is about two ignorant city guys, Skippy (Jaekle)
and Herb (Connell) who want to go deer hunting. They decide to visit Big Jim
Hawbaker’s Backwoods Huntin Lodge, where Big Jim and his large family introduce them to the real wilderness.
The final project was a hit at Canisius, and the professor continued
to use the radio show as an example for years. Boomer kept the original recording on a cassette tape and gave copies to fellow
continued to don the Big Jim persona at random events over the next decade, and Boomer eventually transferred the original
cassette tape to CD. In 1989, Big Jim was the master of ceremonies at the PCS
Class of 1979 reunion party at the Bolivar Country Club.
Big Jim also appeared in the Class of ’79 reunion video
in 2004, when much of the footage was taken at Jim Kelly’s hunting camp.
Also that year, Big Jim was introduced to the world via the Internet,
when Boomer and fellow 79er and Pan-Con member, Jimmy Reynolds, included Big Jim on their pioneering websites. Since then, Jimmy has expanded the Hawbaker legend into local hunting, football, and history.
Big Jim’s last live performance came in 2004 at the annual
ChiliFest in Obi. In 2008, Swetland played the character one last time for an Alumni Football video.
The Hawbaker History:
The Hawbakers of the
21st Century are descendants of German stock and trace their roots in Portville to the pioneer days of the 1800s. Their
original name was 'Haybaker' (one who bakes hay), but somewhere along the way, an illiterate family member misspelled the
name on government documents.
The legendary Milford
Hawbaker moved to the area in 1834, worked as a lumberman, and eventually settled in Obi, where he and wife Beulah raised
19 children (thus, the legend). Hezekiah was the youngest lad (born April 19, 1856) and the first Hawbaker able to read
and write fluently.
In 1876, Hezekiah and
Sarah Wright Gibson Hawbaker begat Jeremiah C. Hawbaker, who begat Lynford Charles Hawbaker (1895), who begat Jedediah Thomas
Hawbaker(1913). Jedediah and Ruth Lila Hawbaker begat James Thaddeus Hawbaker (Big Jim) in 1935.
Big Jim and Beula Mae Crandall Hawbaker (born 1936) begat: