Wrestling superstar comes to reservation, Rapid City to boost Native Americans
Sitting in his hotel room after arriving at the Rushmore Plaza Holiday Inn Thursday night, wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan’s eyes were red and he was a bit road-weary.
Hogan had just gotten in after visiting the Porcupine Indian Reservation earlier in the day, meeting with the locals and just having a good time with close friend Ernie Stevens Jr. and a host of others. His visit was part of his work with Dreamseekers Foundation, which he and Stevens Jr. formed several years ago to help tribal nations battle poverty, violence and a lack of resources.
And even though Hogan was visibly tired from his adventures that day, his eyes lit up when he shared his experiences.
“We saw three eagles,” he said excitedly. “One was sitting on a fencepost and there were a few others overhead. It was pretty amazing. I’d never seen an eagle that close.”
Stevens Jr. just shook his head and smiled. He and Hogan have been friends for several years, and the two have a lot of admiration for each other.
“The Hulk is an amazing man. He a great friend,” Stevens Jr. said.
Hogan said all the Native American people he met Thursday were friendly and polite, wishing him well at every turn.
“We were driving and we stopped at a Common Cents to get something to drink. A lot of people came up to shake hands and talk. What great people we met today,” he said. “We saw people walking down the road and we’d just stop and pick them up and give them a ride.
“Where I’m from (Florida) we’d be afraid to pick anyone up because we’d be afraid they’d kill us. But we gave a lot of people rides. We didn’t know their agenda. We just helped them out.”
The wrestling legend, who turned 55 this summer, may be a bit older, but he doesn’t lack enthusiasm especially when talking about Dreamseekers. He and Stevens Jr. formed Dreamseekers Foundation several years ago with hopes that the foundation could generate funds to help tribal nations that face numerous problems. Hogan became aware of health-care problems Native American children face in 2005, and after meeting and talking with Stevens Jr. they decided to join forces to help Native American people.
Hogan is hoping his Hulkamania Experience (TM), a multilevel progressive video slot-series based on his adventures, will be in Oklahoma and California casinos this year. A portion of the proceeds from the machines will go to Dreamseekers and those funds will go to those in need. Stevens Jr. is chairman for the National Indian Gaming Association.
“When I met Ernie I thought what better way to use the Hulk brand name then to help these people. I had no idea about what kinds of problems these people face as far as healthcare goes,” Hogan said. “Then I found out about other problems like suicide and alcoholism. I felt I could help to address some of the needs these people have.”
Dreamseekers is in its infancy. The foundation has funds coming in, but they are hoping the Hulk’s machines will provide a steady source of revenue. Other sources will be sought as well, but all those involved are willing to wait and do things the right way. There are a lot of things to tackle, but Hogan said they’ll take it step by step.
“I think we can have a big impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Hogan said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about helping people. I’m really just starting to understand what it’s all about. We’re going to take it one piece at a time and keep pushing forward.”
Hogan is involved with many other charitable organizations. He also works quite a bit with the Make A Wish foundation and the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Hogan recently received the National Indian Gaming Association’s Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of Dreamseekers at the Las Vegas Global Gaming Expo in November, and it’s an honor he didn’t take lightly.
“When I do something I’m all in. If I don’t want to do something I’m all out. I’m all in on this. We have great people working with us who are dedicated to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “I’m sitting in this room with these people and five years from now I expect to be here again with this same group of people. Nobody is going anywhere.”
Hogan’s career in pro wrestling is well documented with six WWF and WCW titles. At 6-7, 275 pounds, he was larger than life in the ring and drew the adulation of millions of fans the world over. He may not be the force he once was in the ring but he’s making his presence known on television and with his philanthropic ways.
Born Terry Gene Bollea in Augusta, Ga., he never loses touch with who he is and what he wants to do. He’s at peace with himself and isn’t the hyper Hulk Hogan character people have come to know through wrestling. Out of the ring he’s engaging and mellow, and puts people at ease.
“I’m in the second half,” Hogan says with a smile. “It’s no secret I don’t have any hair and I’m getting a little older. I was in the ring with Rick Flair last week and managed to pull a few muscles but I didn’t break anything.”
Hogan’s personal life has also been well documented and he’s had his share of personal battles over the past year. But if Hogan is down about any personal struggles he’s had he sure doesn’t show it. He loves being Terry Bollea, but he never grows tired of becoming Hulk Hogan.
“I’ve been blessed my whole life and I’m blessed to be part of what we’re doing here. To have kids 7 and 8 years old coming up to me for autographs is really something,” he said. “I’d hate to be one of those guys who used to be popular and now don’t get any attention. It seems like more and more people are wanting to see the Hulk and that’s a lot of fun.”
Stevens Jr. said Hogan’s presence in Indian Country never goes unnoticed.
“Moms, dads, little kids all love Hulk Hogan. I’m bowled over and amazed how many people love this man,” Stevens Jr. said. “Here is a man who is a superstar and he reached out to me telling me he wanted to help Indian kids. That’s an amazing person.” (Credit: The Black Hills Pioneer)
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