Claude “Thunderbolt” Patterson went from the streets of Waterloo, Iowa, to the professional wrestling rings of the National Wrestling Alliance, to the pulpit to spread the Word of God.
“I love Jesus,” Patterson said two days before receiving the Lou Thesz Heavyweight Championship Award. The award was presented at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in his hometown of Waterloo, just a short walk away from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“This is a dream come true,” Patterson said of the Hall of Fame’s induction weekend.
Patterson grew up on the streets of Waterloo, where he tried to avoid trouble by going to the YMCA. He graduated from Waterloo East High School, where he stood out in wrestling.
After high school, he went to work at the local John Deere plant, before he broke into wrestling in the Kansas City territory. He wrestled throughout the 1970s and 1980s for the NWA, and earned the NWA’s Brass Knuckle Championship.
Using his fame from professional wrestling, Patterson has done what he could to share the love of Christ and help others. He is a deputy sheriff in Macon County, Ga., to this day, and an ordained minister.
“Harold Cooper, Sr., will be praying for the country every Tuesday,” Patterson said. He invited everyone to join him in his home church of today in Bowden, Ga.
Patterson, like other legends during the Hall of Fame induction weekend, met many admiring fans. At every opportunity, he shared his vision of world peace, and a need for everyone regardless of political leanings, race, or any other difference, to love one another.
Flanked by his family at the Hall of Fame banquet Saturday night, with his trademark cowboy hat and cane (he has two artificial hips) Patterson accepted his award. Though Waterloo is his hometown and the event is in its 21st year, this was his first time in attendance.
Patterson was active in wrestling until the early 1990s, when he was managing Ice Train and the Steiner Brothers in World Championship Wrestling. He believes that greed among some of the people involved in the business has led to issues with it. Nevertheless, he is proud of his legacy, and what he has been able to do with his fame and other rewards.
“I enjoyed what I was able to accomplish,” Patterson said. “This is the ultimate, what you get in there for.” He still has friends in the business at age 78, and takes little credit for the honor he received.
“God and them, that’s the reason I’m here,” Patterson said.