Lee Arlo Wykoff was born March 10, 1898, in Mayetta, Jackson County, Kansas. He was the eldest child of Charles and Ethel (Haynes) Wykoff. The family moved from Mayetta to Mitchell County, Kansas, and then to Osborne, Kansas, where Lee became an outstanding athlete in football, baseball, and track. He graduated from Osborne High School in 1918 and enrolled in Washburn College at Topeka, Kansas, and became the football team’s starting fullback. In 1920 he earned Little All-American honors at his position and later enrolled at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. On February 17, 1920, he married Nada Hayes in Topeka, Kansas. They had two children, Dorothy and Robert. After graduation from college Lee began a career in professional wrestling. The first few years were a learning experience.
“The wrestling match at the Crystal Theatre last Wednesday evening between Lee Wykoff of Gravette, Arkansas, and Albion Britt of Luray [Kansas] drew the largest crowd that ever assembled at a like sporting event in this city. The paid admissions were in the neighborhood of $165.00 and a good share of the crowd was composed of ladies who appeared to enjoy the sport equally with the men . . . Britt was on the offensive every minute after they finally got into action and won the first fall with an armlock and head chancery after forty-six minutes of strenuous work . . . Britt won the second and deciding fall in twenty-five minutes, using an armlock and body scissors. Britt showed up to mighty good advantage in every stage of the game and easily outclassed Wykoff in quickness and knowledge of the game, and apparently his equal in strength and endurance. Wykoff is strong, persistent, and courageous, but did not appear to have the finish of his stockier opponent.” — Osborne County Farmer, April 22, 1926.
But over time Lee emerged as one of the nation’s greatest scientific wrestlers whose strength was feared by any opponent unlucky enough to fall in his grasp. He stood six feet, one inch and weighed 195 pounds in college, bulking up to 225 pounds at the height of his wrestling career. Lee was noted as a good influence for youngsters in that he did not smoke, drink, or chew. For a short time he wore a mask and wrestled under the name of “The Big Bad Wolf.” But it was under his own name that Lee at last reached the pinnacle of his profession between 1940 and 1945, when he was declared champion heavyweight wrestler of the world by the Western Association of Chicago. During that period Lee was also named world champion twice by the Boston circuit of professional wrestling and in Los Angeles he won the International Heavyweight Championship, a title he held for four years.
“It isn’t often that a little town like Osborne turns out a world champion,” said the Osborne County Farmer at the time, “and we can be pardoned if we boast a little and take on a little reflected glory.”
Lee settled his family on a forty-acre hog farm on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas. His wife Nada died in 1935 and Lee then married Eleanor Lampert on September 17, 1938. During World War II he helped the war effort by working in a bomber plant in Kansas City. At the end of 1947 Lee retired from wrestling and worked his farm, supplementing his income by working in security for an assortment of employers. Lee was an active member in the Masonic Lodge and for a time he was president of the Retired Wrestlers Club. He was a deacon in the White Church Southern Baptist Church, where his funeral was held after Lee passed away April 30, 1974, in Kansas City. He was interred there in the Chapel Hill Cemetery. Together with his brother, Dick, the Wykoff brothers’ legendary feats in sports will be remembered in Osborne County for many years to come.