Memories melting away
Memories can last a lifetime. But memories can also fade away if the location where they were made becomes neglected. That’s why a committee in Ghent is attempting keep past memories alive, while at the same time creating new ones with a “Reviving the Rink” campaign to raise money to renovate the downtown ice rink along Highway 68.
“We really used this rink a lot,” said Bill Maertens, who is one of the committee members, along with his wife Jodi, as well as Adam and Chassidy DeRoode, and Mike Stassen.
“I played youth hockey in Marshall and we used to come here to practice because there wasn’t enough ice space over there,” Bill continued.
Because there isn’t a lot to do in a town of 300 people, something like this ice rink became one of the popular “hangouts” for boys and girls.
“As parents, we thought they should install a telephone (at the rink). That’s where we knew our kids were and somehow they didn’t remember when supper time was up there,” commented Pat Maertens, Bill’s mother, on the Reviving the Rink Facebook page.
“I loved seeing all the rosy cheeks on the kids playing up there.” But the rosy cheeks, frozen toes, and smiling faces have been few and far between in recent years as the rink has fallen into ruins.
“They still use it, but when the fire department floods it, we have to dump the water in the middle and hope that it freezes before it all leaks out under the boards,” said Stassen. “It’s patched up all around the boards, but they still don’t hold the water in very well.”
The concrete floor is also cracked and uneven; also leading to problems during the flooding process or if the basketball hoops would be put up. The rink wasn’t used solely for hockey, though.
“Some of the girls would figure skate, but the hockey players were there at the same time, we always tried to keep them way down in the other end,” laughed Adam DeRoode.
“Some of the girls would play hockey with us, too.” And when the hockey players weren’t at the rink, the figure skaters had their way with the ice. “On school days, we’d rush out of school to grab our skates and be there all night,” said Bree (Wignes) Anderson, a former Ghent resident who is now a teacher in Minneota.
“We’d stop for supper, of course and I always had a little work to do in our café, but I’d be right back out there as soon as I could. On weekends, we would be on the ice basically from sun-up to bedtime.”
Anderson’s grandparents, Marc and Marion Wignes owned the M&M Café next to the rink. Later, Bree’s mother, Brenda (Wignes) Swoboda took over ownership in 1982 and lived above the café with her daughter until she sold the building in 1997. “The rink was a great place for the kids,” said Swoboda.
“I was sometimes the peacemaker/referee. And the kids would come to the café for treats and to use the phone.”
Living next door made it convenient for Bree to spend a lot of time at the rink.
“Wendy Oftedahl and I would pretend to be Olympic skaters and prop my ‘boom box’ in my window and make up choreography,” Anderson told. “We would pretend to be Kristi Yamaguchi or Katarina Witt. But then if the boys came, we’d grab our hockey sticks and take our place on the team.”
Some kids from Minneota and Marshall would even come over to Ghent to participate in the outdoor hockey games. In summers, the basketball poles were placed in anchors at end of the rink. Kids would also use the rink to roller blade, roller hockey, or to play games such as hopscotch or kick the can. Prior to the concrete being poured in 1991, there was even a volleyball net put up in the summer months.
“We have used the rink for fire trainings, fundraisers for the fire department, as well as various activities on Belgian-American Days throughout the year,” said Bill Maertens.
A warming house on the north end of the rink was there to provide relief from the cold winters. And there are even lights on poles all around the rink.
“We didn’t use the warming house much because no one wanted to stop playing,” said Adam DeRoode.
“You would end up having no feeling in your toes.” “We’d skate until our toes felt like they were going to fall off,” said Anderson. “Then we would go into the warming house just long enough for the feeling to come back to our extremities.”
Adam DeRoode and Bill Maertens both started using the rink when they were in first or second grade in the late-1980s. DeRoode graduated in 1997 and Maertens in 1999, both from Marshall High School. “When we were kids, we pretty much lived there in the winter,” Maertens said.
“Most nights, we would have plenty of kids to have our own ‘Ghent Hockey League’ games. At times, there would be upwards of 20 kids playing hockey.”
Nearly everyone who used the rink has fond memories to share. And the committee refuses to relinquish those memories and has many ideas in store if they are able to raise enough money to repair it.
“This is really important for the kids to have a place like this to use,” said Chassidy DeRoode. As you pass by the rink, a large “Reviving the Rink” sign hangs on the fence on the south end facing the highway. It lists some of the activities that will possibly be included if/when the monetary goal is met. And a meter also indicates how the fundraising efforts are going.
“What really triggered us to save the rink was when we heard rumors that the rink was being sold,” said Bill Maertens.
“As a lifetime citizen of Ghent I can’t even imagine how many hours I spent at that rink and the memories I made.” “We just felt that the rink is such a unique asset to our community and the surrounding area; a place where other kids and families can make their own memories. Not every community has something so special like this.”
Committee members spoke with the mayor and a few of the city council members to discuss the status of the rink. They also attended a couple of council meetings in an attempt to persuade them not to sell the rink and to give the Reviving the Rink committee a chance to raise the money to fix it up.
They have raised just under half the amount of money they feel is needed to do a quality repair job. “One of the things people can donate is a yard of concrete,” said Bill Maertens. “We would like to get 100 people to donate a yard of concrete for the news surface.”
The committee is pondering other ways to use the rink besides a skating rink once the project comes to fruition. “We have a lot of ideas on what we would like to do with this space,” said Jodi Maertens.
“We want to make sure it is useable year-round for the kids and adults.”
“The more funding we receive, the more we can do. We have a lot of partnerships made and commitments from people and local businesses to offer their time, talent, and materials to complete the project.”
Currently, 14 businesses and many individuals have jumped on the Reviving the Rink bandwagon and volunteered to help with the project.
Besides needing a new surface, many of the boards and the fence surrounding the rink need to be replaced, and the warming house needs to be renovated.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure this space is up to date and safe for people to use,” said Jodi Maertens.
Once the renovation project is complete, the committee may have a “Name the Rink” contest.
For now, we’ll just refer to it as the place where memories are frozen in time. “It was our happy place,” said Anderson. “That is certain.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the Reviving the Rink Project can check out the Reviving the Rink Facebook page where a Go Fund Me account has been set up.