WINONA LAKE – A number of people had been waiting and watching for the Miller Sunset Pavilion ice rink to open in Winona Lake, including the family that won the grand prize drawing on opening day Saturday.
“We’ve been looking forward to this a long time, watching the news reports and checking out the information,” said Dave Stockman, whose wife Carolyn won the grand prize of a season family pass, valued at almost $400 and donated by the town of Winona Lake. Those who attended the noon opening were eligible for the grand prize drawing.
He said they were “absolutely” excited the ice rink was now open.
“We’ll be here pretty much every week, pretty regularly,” Dave, a 1987 Grace College graduate who lives in North Webster, predicted.
The K21 Health Foundation hosted a Free Skate for the Community from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday to help christen the opening of skating season. Prizes and other surprises were provided throughout the day, as well as free hot cocoa or cider and cookies for all skaters.
K21 President and CEO Rich Haddad announced a $1 million pledge toward the pavilion’s construction during the K21 20th anniversary celebration in 2019, which ultimately turned into a $1.5 million grant to the town of Winona Lake’s development plan to make it happen in Kosciusko County. Mary Louise Miller and the Miller family, who the building is named for, donated the land for the pavilion. She also was instrumental to the project by leading the development through formation of WL Ice LLC as well as financing construction. The pavilion belongs to the town.
On opening day Saturday, 105 people came through the line in the first 18 minutes, with people coming and going throughout the day.
“This is great. It’s truly a winter day, so we were kind of wondering about the wind and the temperatures, but there’s a lot of excitement, there’s a lot of people that were ready when we opened up at noon, so we just think it’s going to be an incredible winter with the ice rink here in Winona Lake for our community. It’s just great to see it,” Haddad said Saturday.
Wyle Eby, 14, and Elijah Fussle, 12, were two of the first people in line Saturday. They got in line at 11:30 a.m. for the noon opening.
Eby said they came out to get some skating time in.
“Honestly, that’s what I’m trying to do. This whole time. I was waiting the whole year for this,” Fussle said.
Saturday was Eby’s first time ice skating, he said, while Fussle said he’s done it before.
Jill Gross, K21 Board of Directors, said, the ice rink was “so exciting. I’m glad that Winona’s doing it. Look at the families. It’s just a wonderful opportunity for the whole county. We have people here from Wawasee, so they’re coming from all over. It’s exciting. A wonderful investment for a long time. It’ll be here for a long time.”
Haddad agreed the pavilion was a great investment for everyone, including K21.
“We do a lot of things all year long, a lot of different things as far as supporting financially, but every once in a while, a big idea, a big vision comes along and our Board (of Directors believes) it’s great. We want to make a big difference, so this ice rink represents something that’s truly going to impact future generations, well past our lifetime. So we’re thrilled that this is now open and happening,” Haddad said.
He encouraged everyone to come check the ice rink out.
“There’s skates. There’s cool little seal helpers for those just starting to skate, the little kids. And it’s just a great environment. The Village (at Winona) is a great place for this to be, so there’s a lot to do in Winona Lake, but I would just encourage everybody to come out and give it a try,” Haddad said.
Jennifer Stewart, marketing and community manager for K21, said she got to talk to some of the families that were there Saturday. “Everybody has said the same thing: ‘We’ve been walking by and waiting for the whole year.’ They’ve been just watching it transpire and their excitement has just been so fun to see here today,” she said.
Haddad said there’s a lot of people who do skate who are “so thankful” that the ice rink is here, but there’s also a lot of people who have yet to skate “that I think will try it now that we have the opportunity here in our community.”
Angie Summers had five in her group Saturday and they all brought their own ice skates.
“My parents live on Chapman Lake and so, during the winters especially, on school breaks or when school is cancelled, they will often go out and skate on the channel, or we’ll go to Fort Wayne to skate,” Summers said. “We like to skate a lot, so it’s really great that we don’t have to wait for the lakes to be frozen enough to be able to skate in our community.”
She said it’s a fun event the whole family can do together.
“I think we’ll come as often as we can. We’re excited about the family packages that they’re offering. This is definitely a winter activity that we really enjoy, so we’re really excited that it’s open,” Summers said.
Hours of operation are 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 12 to 9 p.m. Saturdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Cost for skate general admission is free for kids under 2 years old; $5, under 14; and $7 for anyone over 14. Group rate – 10 or more people, including admission and skate rental – is $10 per person. Admission passes are available. Skate rental, on a first-come, first-served basis, is $5 and $7 for skate aids.
Haddad said they want people being active and living an active life year-round. “This ice rink represents the best part of winter opportunities for people,” he said.
Over time, he expected that the programming for the Miller Sunset Pavilion will evolve and more opportunities for different activities will be offered. There could be opportunities for ice skating lessons, maybe a junior hockey league and/or private parties.
“So, there’s just a lot to do, and, of course, this pavilion, when it’s not the winter time, is going to be able to offer a lot of options spring, summer, fall, so we’re excited about the 12-month impact this facility is going to make,” Haddad concluded.
Amanda Shepherd brought her whole crew out to ice skate Saturday as an early birthday present to her two girls who turned 11 on Sunday. Shepherd said she grew up in The Dells and they would skate on the pond. Living on Chapman Lake now, whenever the lake would freeze over, they’d put on their skates and go out.
“I anticipate that we will come often” to the ice rink, she said.
District 22 State Rep. Craig Snow said the pavilion and ice rink turned out wonderfully.
“I’m really excited about what it will do for the community by way of pulling families together, bringing kids out, especially at a time of year where most of us stay in the house, bundled up inside. This is a reason to get out and get some exercise and enjoy time outdoors and have a little coffee or hot cocoa, trying to stay warm,” Snow said. “So, I’m excited about it and really looking forward to seeing what it will do in the future to kind of motivate maybe the next project or whatever comes up. I’m happy for everyone who was involved getting it going, and thankful for K21 to kind of put their foot forward and getting others to build on it. Very excited to see how it works out.”