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Community connection found at Lac La Hache ice rink

George Lee has been the facility manager of the Rolf Zeis Memorial Arena for over a decade
George Lee has been the facility manager and Zamboni driver for the Rolf Zeis Memorial Arena for the last 12 years. (Photo submitted)

For 12 years George Lee has been the facility manager of the Rolf Zeis Memorial Arena in Lac La Hache.

The arena, run by the Lac La Hache Community Club, has long been a staple of the community hosting free skates and tournaments. Throughout it all Lee has been responsible for maintaining and caring for the ice, all on his own time.

“Volunteer work is what keeps small towns running and all it takes is a few hours of your time here and there and it’s another way to meet people,” Lee said. “All small towns need people to help with growing the community and community spirit. Lac La Hache used to be a thriving community with lots of activity but health and old age catch up with everyone. To keep it going we have to share the knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.”

Born in Port Hammond back in 1952, Lee said that skating was always a part of his life one way or the other. Growing up he learned how to skate on frozen ponds and gravel pits. During his single years working in Vancouver, he said he visited every rink he could.

“I love skating, I found it a great stress reliever and great exercise,” Lee said.

Lee raised his family in the Lower Mainland, working for 30 years as a radiator mechanic for Burnaby Radiator. As the industry changed he said he and his wife chose to get out of the business and look for a new place to live. In 2009 they bought the Rangeland Motel and moved to Lac La Hache full time in 2010.

After settling down Lee first got involved with the arena after he saw a poster at the post office looking for volunteer Zamboni drivers. Answering the call Lee met longtime community member Terry Buckoll, who was running the arena at the time.

Buckoll went on to teach Lee everything he knew, not only about driving a Zamboni but also about making ice, maintaining equipment and running the facility. Not long after Lee came aboard Buckoll passed over running the arena to him, which he has done for the last 12 years. Lee noted Buckoll passed away in February this year and is sorely missed by both himself and the Lac La Hache community.

Driving a Zamboni for the first time was a bit intimidating Lee recalled, but he said over time you realize it’s just like driving any other vehicle, except you’re sitting in the back seat.

“Learning to handle a Zamboni was a different experience for sure and I’m glad Terry had a lot of patience. Once you remember the main control placement and how the rest of the machine works, the rest is practice and fun,” Lee said. “Zamboni driving has been something of a personal challenge to make the best ice surface I can. When we get feedback for having great ice it gives you a great feeling.”

Lee said his favourite part of running the arena over the year is making the ice itself. Along with a team of three to four people, he spends two weeks every fall using a spray boom to slowly build up a good coat of ice. Once it is thick enough for the Zamboni to drive on he uses it to build the rest of the ice.

As he settled into the role of facility manager Lee and the rest of the club got to work improving the services offered at the rink and encouraging more people to make use of them. While they don’t have a skate rental over the years they’ve collected several skates and helmets from community donations in a share shed that the general public can use.

“My favourite sessions to run are the elementary school and public skate and I get to play all the playlists I make during the week,” Lee said. “I’ve taught my own kids to skate and recently my Grandkids as well.”

While he’s enjoyed his time managing the arena, Lee said that due to some personal health concerns, he’s taking a step back and passing the torch on to the next generation. He plans to stay on as the vice president to the Lac La Hache Community Club for now, noting they meet on the third Tuesday of every month. He encourages anyone with an interest in getting involved to come attend a meeting.

“I have greatly enjoyed my time in this little town with its awesome people but with my unsure look for the future I have passed the torch of facility manager to Russ Neher, he knows how to get things done. Also, Concession manager Lois Hazard who brought a lot of new ideas and all the others who gave a little of their time to help, thank you very much.”

Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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