The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 23, 2013

Oak Knoll residents maintain rink, traditions

West Mankato neighbors are ice caretakers

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— To flood the ice rink next to his west Mankato home, Jed Falgren used to attach a hose to his house spigot and run it across the street.

Though the rink in Dotson Park measures only 80-by-40 feet, the twice-weekly floodings gulped a lot of water and gouged Falgren's utility bill.

"It gave it a bump," he admits, "but, ah, I didn't care."

A hydrant installed in the city park several years ago gave his house faucet a break.

 All he has to do now -- and "all" is a relative term here -- is hook that fire hose up in the park late at night, Christmas through mid-February, and go with the flow.

After he waters down the rink he and helpmate neighbor Tom Hallett must drain the hose to prevent freeze-ups before Falgren loads into a wheelbarrow and hauls it home.

He also keeps the ice groomed with a homemade "Zamboni" fashioned from perforated plastic pipe that has an affixed towel dragging behind.

Falgren neighbor Mandy Wittenberg says she sees him working on the rink after midnight sometimes.

 And in early fall he's been known to erect a large viewing screen in the park for neighborhood movie nights, with kids munching on popcorn in their

sleeping bags.

"He does so much, above and beyond," Wittenberg says.

Falgren says his rink work is becalming, almost therapeutic, and the  payoff is gazing out the window of his home facing the park and watching kids having fun.

Gary and Bobbi Urban, who live several blocks away, routinely take their children to the park to skate.

At night, under the lights and nestled among homes built in the 1940s and 1950s, the park evokes a Norman Rockwell-esque scene

"There's something that seems homey about it," Gary Urban says. Actually, Falgren and others in the Oak Knoll Boulevard neighborhood are simply maintaining Dotson Park traditions that began more than a

half-century ago with Jerry and Mary Dotson.

The Dotsons bought a former garden-plot lot next to their house and converted it to a neighborhood park that became a skating rink in winter and the focal point of a Fourth of July kiddie parade that continues to be held

annually.

Hallett says the Dotsons doted on that rink -- Mary would go out and fill chinks in the ice with water from her teapot -- and they'd invite chilled skaters into their house for hot cocoa.

In summers they'd order movies and play them for neighborhood kids in their basement.

When widowed Mary moved away in 1998 she donated the park to the city, which fully maintained it for a time before informally partnering with neighborhood residents, who help maintain the facility.

Oak Knoll resident David Wittenberg lauds the city/citizen arrangement that encourages residents to have a hands-on stake in the small park and, by

extension, the neighborhood's traditions.

"Sometimes people want government to do everything for them, but it's up to us to make it what it is."

He says if people such as Falgren and Hallett cease their park care others will have to pick up the torch.

Hallett jokes that if Falgren were to move, he¹d be knocking on the new homeowner¹s door straight away to inform him of the park duties that come with the house.

That hypothetical new owner might not know a thing about flooding a rink.

But then, neither did Falgren after the city stopped maintaining it in 2003.

"We made it up as we went," he says.