The Remarkable John A. Sullivan

Five year-old Johnny Sullivan lost his leg on May 30, 1907 in a tragic accident. His left leg was completely crushed by the “Kaukauna” trolley car, all the way from his knee to his ankle. Sullivan was rushed from the accident scene (South Broadway near his home) to St. Mary’s Hospital. There his leg would be amputated, just above the knee.

Postcard showing the trolley on Broadway

Johnny, the youngest of 8, barely knew his father. Thomas Sullivan died in 1905. John’s older brother, Francis, died in World War I in 1918. Francis is still remembered today as the first WWI soldier to die from Green Bay. The local American Legion’s Green Bay post is named Sullivan-Wallen in his honor.

John grew up and attended Green Bay West High School, where as a sophomore (1919), the hobbled “Sully” even joined the football squad. This was at a time when Green Bay East vs West football was a bigger draw in town than Packers vs Bears.

Green Bay West
1922 Yearbook

“When the squad is tackling and blocking the dummy, Sullivan gets in line and hits the form as hard as any man on the team. He hobbles along as fast as he is able to with the aid of the crutch, and when a few feet from the dummy he dives for the image, hitting it with such force that it bounds against the earth with a thump.”

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Sep 24, 1919, Page 5

Finding this hard to believe? Apparently Robert Ripley agreed. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette (Dec 5, 1965), John was even featured in a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” column.

“Sully” was a first-string tackle for the West siders and was known for his tackling and blocking. He was considered one of the hardest hitters on the team. He played baseball and basketball too in addition to track, where he high jumped a record 5 feet 6 inches. He was a skilled swimmer and diver and learned he could ice skate using crutches with spikes in the bottoms. In his later years he was an avid bowler and loved hunting pheasant and deer.

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Apr 3, 1935, Page 11

In 1935, John A. Sullivan ran for the office of Police Justice. He had previously served as a justice of the peace. He defeated the incumbent George A. Arends 5835 to 2701. Not only did he defeat Arends but Sullivan received more votes that day than any other candidate on the ballot. He would maintain that post for 35 years.

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Dec 5, 1965, Page 29

Later in life Judge John Sullivan became renowned for his sentencing of traffic violators. He would suspend “traffic violators’ driving licenses until they copied the state’s speed laws from five to 20 times, depending on the case.” These laws were over a 1000 words in length. Judge Sullivan explained, “It was like staying after school and writing on the blackboard: ‘I was wrong and will never do it again.'” Each copy had to be written in longhand and no carbons were accepted. Another one of his creative punishments was sentencing law breakers to the reforestation camp. He did this so often in fact, that he has his own chapter in Pam Severt’s and Aurelia Barth’s book “Into the Woods: The Story of Aurelia Barth and the Reforestation Camp.”

Green Bay
Apr 6, 1970,
Page 1

In 1970, Judge Sullivan died of an accidental gunshot wound. He had recently been re-elected to an 18th term in 1969 but was at home and incapacitated due to a recent stroke. When the fire department arrived at the house, Sullivan, who was still conscious, explained that he went to clean his shotgun when it accidentally went off.

Always known as the easy-going Irishman, John A. Sullivan died at the age of 67. Except for a few months, John A. Sullivan lived here in the city of Green Bay his entire life. His senior yearbook quote was “Occasions do not make a man frail, but they show what he is (especially in football).”

Green Bay West Yearbook | 1921
Green Bay West Yearbook | 1922
Green Bay Press-Gazette | May 31, 1907
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Sep 24, 1919
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Nov 3, 1921
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Apr 3, 1935
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Dec 5, 1965
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Apr 6, 1970
Green Bay Press-Gazette | Apr 16, 1970

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