John Weber Memorial Trophy

By Sally O’Sullivan Bair

(Information from The Tugline, August, 2003, and March, 1997)

Carved from California redwood by Mel Fishback (Riley), Art Allen of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was the first recipient in 1969 of the John Weber Memorial trophy. The beautiful trophy was donated by John Weber’s family. He was killed in Viet Nam in 1968 on his 21st birthday. Despite his youth but with a vision for the future of sled dog racing, he was an active driving force in North Star Sled Dog Club in the 1960s. To honor Weber and what he stood for, John’s family and Denny Hitchcock, his friend and mushing companion, asked Mel Fishback (Riley) of Montana to fashion the trophy. It was originally awarded at the St. Paul Winter Carnival race. When that race folded, it was awarded to a 10-class driver at the Cannon Falls, Minnesota, race. Today the trophy, having been retired in 2002, rests on display at Denny Hitchcock’s dinner theatre in Rock Island, Illinois.

  John Weber in the Army

John Weber

John Weber was but a teen when he entered the ranks of mushers. “A flaming meteor. Six feet tall. Rough, tough,” described one newspaper article. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 1, 1968). Born February 3, 1947, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, John was a neighbor to early mushers Denis Christman and Leo Sowada. He moved to St. Paul in 1959, graduating from St. Paul Murray High School in 1965. Always an “outdoorsy” type with a love of animals, Weber saw his first Siberian at a neighbor’s, who had been given the dog by Priscilla (Tootie) Nelson. The teenager wasted no time in making Nelson’s acquaintance, eventually working into training her Siberian team, headed by Kache and Kona, who were out of Mabell Hill’s Kennel in Circle Pines, Minnesota. (Eventually Hill moved to Stacy, Minnesota. She was an early North Star Sled Dog Club notable, who is often referred to as “the godmother of Minnesota Mushing.”) He built a sled for Nelson and made harnesses out of parachute rope and would get up early in the morning before school to train his team. Weber became a regular at Hill’s farm on weekends, where he met fellow mushers Gene Lee and Denny Hitchcock. Weber entered the St. Paul Winter Carnival Sled Dog Race in 1965 and competed in sled dog races in Iowa and Michigan. At eighteen, he was one of the finest husky dog sled racers in America. His prowess in Winter Carnival events is a most colorful chapter in the history of those events.

Shortly out of high school Weber enlisted in the Army and was eventually sent to Viet Nam, where he was killed on his 21st birthday, 1968. Just prior to that, in November, 1967, however, he had been hit in the chest but continued helping his companions and stopped an enemy attack by killing twelve of them during the Battle of Hill 875. After a short recuperation in the hospital, he was out again in the field leading a five-man reconnaissance team February 3rd when he was fatally wounded.

“John saved all his money for the dogs,” said his mother, Violet Weber Ross. “His one great goal was to someday go to Alaska.” His heroes were Jack London and Robert Service and his dream was to mush through the wilds of Alaska, “where it was cold and clean and pure.” (St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 1, 1968)

Friend and mushing companion, Denny Hitchcock remembers Weber as a very independent, hard-driven teen and a strong competitor who was dedicated to whatever he was doing. He also recalls Weber as the first person in Minnesota to use a “snowhook” of any kind, which exhibited typical Weber ingenuity. It was fashioned out of a meat hook from a local butcher’s shop. In these early days of the sport in Minnesota, a team was disciplined to stay stopped on a voice command, which wasn’t always a sure way to produce the desired result. With only a friction brake to stop them, which gave way as soon as one’s foot was lifted from it, many a team would run like the wind instead of obediently stopping.


The Award

Voted on by his/her fellow drivers in the Unlimited (Open) or 10-dog class, the John Weber Memorial Trophy was awarded to an Unlimited (Open) class driver or 10-dog class driver (when the Unlimited Open class was no longer run at many races) who exemplified the best sportsmanship by his/her fellow mushers in the class. It is interesting that two of Weber’s mushing companions, Gene Lee and Denny Hitchcock, were recipients of this trophy, an indication of the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie that existed among the small group of dedicated, early Minnesota competitors. Of equal note is the fact that Dave Lee and Jeremy Lee represent son and grandson of Gene, signifying the passing of the sportsmanship torch through generations and a tribute to John Weber’s memory.

“This spirit of sportsmanship and competitiveness –  just the whole thing of sled dog driving – all of the good points are kind of rolled into John Weber and the John Weber Trophy.” – John Cooper

      John Weber's Army Photo

1969   Art Allen, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1970   Tom Mathias, Michigan

1971   Dave Walling, Pocatello, Idaho

1972   Oz Bayers, Anoka, Minnesota

1973   Gene Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

1974   Oz Bayers, Anoka, Minnesota

1975   Art Allen, Cedar Rapids, Minnesota

1976   Dave Niswander, Wyoming, Minnesota

1977   No award

1978   Gene Lee, Stacy, MInnesota

1979   Gene Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

1980   No award

1981   Tom Lerum, Zumbro Falls, Minnesota

1982   Dave Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

1983   Dee Dee Niswander, Wyoming, MN

1984   Tom Lerum, Zumbro Falls, Minnesota

1985   Gene Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

1986   Tim Wallace, Ham Lake, Minnesota

1987   No award

1988   Stuart McIntyre, Ely, Minnesota

1989   Dave Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

1990   No award

1991   Denny Hitchcock, Sherrard, Illinois

1992   Steve Bergemann, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

          Ted Wallace, Wrenshall, Minnesota

1993   Dave Steele, Merrifield, Minnesota

1994   Rabbit Smallwood, Isabella, Minnesota

1995   No award

1996   Gene Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

          Rabbit Smallwood, Isabella, Minnesota

          Steve Bergemann, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

1997   Denny Hitchcock, Sherrard, Illinois

          Gene Lee, Stacy, Minnesota

          Cayenne Biberstein, Zurich, Switzerland

          Ted Wallace, Wrenshall, Minnesota

1998   No award

1999   Ted Wallace, Wrenshall, Minnesota

2000   Jeremy Lee, Pine River, Minnesota

2001   Steve Bergemann, St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin

2002   Award retired


Art Allen, the 1st recipient of the John Weber Award


NSSDC Purpose
The North Star Sled Dog Club promotes the sport of sled dog racing and the welfare of the sled dog.
It also familiarizes the public with the work of the sled dog.