By Randall Strossen
March 1992 issue
Peary Rader was one of those very rare people who made a difference -- a very large and very positive difference. He was the classic example of someone who made full use of his head, his hears and his hands not just to make the most of himself, but even more impressive, to help other people. Peary Rader passed away on November 24th, 1991 [over three decades ago], but we are indeed fortunate that his spirit will always remain with us.
In 1936, the maintenance man in a rural Nebraska school district began to publish a physical culture newsletter using a ditto machine he had rescued from the scrap heap. That man was Peary Rader, and from those humble beginnings, his Iron Man magazine became the most universally respected publication of its kind in the world, with each issue being "like a diamond" in the words of Milo Steinborn. And if each issue had the light, character and toughness of a diamond, that was only a fair reflection of its publisher and editor.
At the age of 12, Peary, in his own words, "started my quest for muscle," and "after twelve years of work, expense and discouragement . . . using every other course of exercise, diet and fad that I could get hold of . . . at last found something that would help me." That magic wand was, of course, a barbell, and more specifically, a barbell used for heavy, high repetition squats.
When Peary says he was in "terrible condition" before he began squatting, there's good evidence to support his claim. An early photo of Peary (circa 1933) shows him at 5'10" and 128 pounds, personifying the classic underweight before case, a self-described assemblage of "skin and bones." But Peary was also like the little engine that could, because he had a vision and he didn't know about quitting short of his goal:
"You may wonder that I would stay with it that long -- that I could still hope after so many discouragement. it is strange but my enthusiasm and belief that I could do what others had done never once cooled the least bit. What it was that kept my hope so high I am not able to say. In those years of struggle and experiment I learned much that I am trying to impart to those who might need it and who may be passing through the same thing. I was one of those fellows of who they say, 'Oh, you are just naturally thin. There is nothing you can do about it.' I, however, did not believe that and finally proved it. Just always bear in mind that if you want a thing bad enough, you can have it if you will just keep trying."
Keep trying Peary did, for after several years of failure, he discovered heavy, high repetition squats and over the next year or so his bodyweight flew from 128 to 210 pounds! From that point on, Peary assembled a string of victories in local and regional weightlifting championships, and also became proficient in a number of other lifts, as well as in a series of classical feats of strength.
The late Chester Teagarden, who was Peary's friend for several decades, told me that Peary had a pretty ferocious one-hand clean, among other lifts, and reading Peary's articles, it was easy to see that while he loved the squat above all other lifts, he also had a special fondness for feats of hand strength.
In a similar display of perseverance, Peary, newly married to Mabel Kirchner, began a modest newsletter, and with Mabel at every step of the way, endured countless hardships to produce their gem of a magazine. And it really was their magazine, for as Chester once told me, "There never would have been an Iron Man magazine without Mabel, and don't you forget that."
Peary had a rugged pioneering spirit and he was buoyed by an inner spiritual strength that allowed him to carry forth his message even when he was a lone voice. It began with the squat, for after Mark Berry left the barbell field, Peary was the principle advocate of the squat -- which has long had its critics as wall as its champions. And this trailblazing spirit continued throughout his life.
For example, Peary recognized that while most people simply didn't have the athletic ability to excel at Olympic weightlifting, virtually anyone could bench, squat deadlift, so he supported powerlifting as it was struggling to evolve from an informal activity into an official barbell specialty.
Mabel Rader, seated, fourth from left at one of the first gatherings to attempt to organize odd lift competitions into what we now know as powerlifting.
July 3rd, 1950.
Not that Peary gave the powerlifters carte blanche, however, because after watching powerlifters wrap themselves like mummies to "lift" bigger weights at the 1968 Nationals, Peary wrote, "We came away from the meet so disgusted with some of their antics that we didn't care if we ever saw another power lift contest or not . . ." And with Mabel in the lead, the Raders were principle forces in the establishment of women's lifting.
Note: This can be fun . . . comparing the two:
1968 BAWLA Men's Powerlifting Championships:
1968 AAU Powerlifting Senior Nationals:
Not that Peary's leadership role was limited to grand causes, for he also led the way on smaller things as well: It was Peary who put the parallel squat on the map when everyone else did "deep knee bends" and J.C. Hise called Peary's version "half squats." He began manufacturing Jim Douglass' revolutionary squat circle soon after Jim invented it.
Note: the photos disappear because I didn't pay for hosting them back then.
Carl Miller found magic in the circle as well:
Peary promoted Rheo H. Blair and this then-radical protein supplements, and he imported Eleiko lifting sets from Sweden when York was still a juggernaut.
Throughout it all, Peary was honest, to the point of pain.
As a small example, some 25 years ago (1967), I can remember asking Peary if it were true that a certain Mr. America smoked cigarettes and after a pause, Peary acknowledged that it was true, even if unfortunate. And when anabolic steroids first hit the Iron Game, and were known only to hardcore lifters and bodybuilders, Peary immediately took a stand against them. Nonetheless, in a triumph of journalistic integrity over personal opinion, Peary reported that a certain person's training had included so much of a name brand steroid -- although Peary was quick to cite his personal disapproval of the steroid, felt obligated to truthfully report its use by this man.
For fifty years, the Raders published Iron Man magazine . . .
many of the contents tables available here:
To commemorate the magazine's golden anniversary, a rather well known lifting doctor collected letters from prominent iron game figures far and wide, and had excerpts published in the September, 1986 issue of IronMan -- the penultimate issue before the Raders sold their beloved magazine [to the appropriately-minded John Balik, after "meetings" with others unsavory].
Selecting from these quotes creates a fitting summary of just who Peary Rader was [and the type of person he refused to be], and just what he accomplished without becoming that type of person:
"I think Iron Man is the best magazine in the field. I've read it since 1958 when I was a 14 year old in Eastman, Georgia. Kids are at the mercy of the muscle magazines, and it was a lucky thing for me that Iron Man was on the newsstand of the Ideal Pharmacy in Eastman in those days. It was my salvation. It got me started and helped me keep my training in perspective. There's no way to calculate how many lives have been touched in a positive way by Iron Man. It was a beacon of light -- realism -- and that's from the heart."
-- John Coffee
"I never felt he was out to make a lot of money from his magazines, like some people are in this field. It always seemed to me that he just wanted to help people."
-- Doug Hepburn
"Whenever I've thought of Iron Man, the word that always comes to mind is Honesty."
-- Frank Stranahan
"I always thought Iron Man was the thinking man's magazine."
-- Bruce Klemons
" . . . whenever I've been asked which physique publication is the best on the market, I've never hesitated in saying, 'Iron Man magazine of Alliance, Nebraska.' I think most people feel that way."
-- Bill Pearl
"The magazine always kept you up on everything, as it was so packed with information. I think what makes Peary different from other people in his position is that he never seemed to be politically motivated to become any sort of a mogul."
-- Ken Patera
And lest you think this sort of recognition was quickly forgotten in the five years since it first appeared, read what Denis Reno just wrote in his Weightlifter's Newsletter:
"Those of us who knew Peary were especially impressed with his honesty and also his enduring dedication to the weight sports. (I'll also tell you that I'm surprised to find myself with tears in my eyes as I'm typing this.) Anyway, Peary and Mabel were into these sports long before I was born, and he was a regular at many national and local contests. I never heard him utter an angry word -- but I sure saw him pitch in and help out time and time again. Just because Peary Rader is gone, do not forget the strong and important influence that he gave to make our sport better."
So, in a world governed by fifteen minutes of fame, Peary Rader's memory will endure as long as the Iron Game itself.
To be sure, that little magazine from America's heartland was devoted to "physical superiority," and it was unique in how it approached this goal. Making it even more special, however, was its interest in developing the entire person: mind and spirit, as well as body.
While the bulk of Iron Man was devoted to helping people get bigger and stronger, the Raders also carried the message of well-rounded self-enrichment and unvarnished Christianity to their readers. It was from this perspective, rather than one of just pounds and inches, that Peary counseled his readers. And in the third issue of Iron Man, Peary set forth a challenge:
. . . let's try equally hard to make ourselves men of mental and spiritual quality as well as physical. Make yourself worthwhile to your fellow men, in being helpful and bringing happiness to others. Be a man who commands the respect of your community because of your worthwhile qualities.
Even measured by these high standards Peary Rader succeeded superbly.
May he rest in peace.