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TKH – Heart of a Community

This article originally appeared in Door County Living magazine. It is used with permission.

You can see the glow from the lights above Sister Bay’s Teresa K. Hilander Community Ice Rink from the middle of the village hundreds of yards away. On a winter Wednesday night you can follow those lights down Mill Road and take a left on Woodcrest, where you’ll find a sizable portion of the community assembled at the rink.

Wednesday night is game night for the Door County Broomball

Skaters approach the rink.

The Teresa K. Hilander Community Ice Rink has been at the center of Northern Door County winters for 15 years. Photo courtesy of Len Villano.

League, when players, fans and families gather at the now 10-year-old rink in a small-town scene straight out of the movies. You may have to park in the field, as the parking spots are usually full, then head into the warming house to lace up or grab a cup of hot chocolate (if you’re just there to watch).

On your way out to the rink you’ll have to watch for little kids, the occasional hockey puck, and wayward broomballs. The chill hits you hard in those first few steps as your breath rises visibly before you, but the warmth of the small fire outside soothes the cold, as does the scene before you: a resilient and generous community gathered together to play on the ice.

The scene comes courtesy of the efforts of many – masons, carpenters, landscapers, painters, businesses and volunteers who gave their time and money to build an ice rink a decade ago.

Brian Fitzgerald was 25 and had just moved to the community when he began the effort to build the rink in 1994. A huge fan of snow sports who calls winter his favorite time of the year to be outside, he had spent the previous winter in the winter sports haven of Duluth, Minnesota.

He grew up playing hockey in the Twin Cities and hoped to get pickup games going here, but it was seeing kids struggling to play that inspired him.

“I remember seeing all these kids skating at the old rink and thinking it’d be great for them to have a good place to play with lights,” Fitzgerald said. “I wanted there to be activities for younger people to enjoy down there, and I figured even if we just played pickup broomball it would be great.”

Though dozens of area craftsmen contributed to the effort, most credit Fitzgerald with making it happen. One of them, Mike Kahr, has been a tireless contributor to the rink and serves on the TKH board. “That was really Brian’s thing,” he recalled. “He got it all going.”

Fitzgerald has called the building of the rink one of his proudest moments. “The sense of community you got, just to see how everyone was willing to donate,” he said. “And a lot of it was for the kids. It was great just to see how many people would step up.”

Originally, the rink was located a few long strides away on Mill Road, and there was much bitterness when it was moved four years ago to make way for the new fire station. The old spot was a perfect location with a natural wind block and cozy feel. It’s also the place where the sweat was dripped to build the rink and warming house.

Sunset at the rink

The sun sets on a day at the pleasure rink in the winter of 2013. Photo courtesy of Len Villano.

Fitzgerald said it was hard to swallow the move, but one only has to look at how much work it has taken the village to construct the new rink to realize the effort given to the original project. “You see the value of what the volunteers contributed when you see what it cost the village to replace the rink,” he said.

TKH remains a community project. A small cadre of dedicated volunteers made up of Kevin Duffy, Michael Mercier, Kahr, Linden Erickson, Rob Bussler, and Mike Mead keeps the rink open, putting up boards, flooding and re-flooding the ice, and administering the facilities. “The rink simply could not survive without the volunteers,” Kahr said.

The initial vision was simple, but it would grow into something much bigger. Without those efforts a decade ago, there would be no rink at all today, and if the village should ever follow through on its plans for a bigger and better rink, it will make their work even more lasting and significant.

The old spot may be gone, but the heart and generosity put into it endures.

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