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Norwich ‘Hosers’ Make the Grade: Group Nears Fundraising Goal for Ice Rink

Mary Coffey, of Hanover, and her stepdaughter Ella Zinman test out the ice at the rink on the green in Norwich in December 2008. (Valley News - Jason Johns)

Mary Coffey, of Hanover, and her stepdaughter Ella Zinman test out the ice at the rink on the green in Norwich in December 2008. (Valley News - Jason Johns) Purchase photo reprints »

— Even with the arrival of the summer solstice, “The Hosers” are working to improve the town’s winter recreation options. The community group of about 20 volunteers, named for the nightly flooding duty they perform in winter at the Norwich Green’s community skating rink, is only $520 short of the $3,500 needed to level ground at the skating site.

The project is expected to get under way in mid-July and after the annual Norwich Lions Club Fair and will mostly remove an 8-inch slope that causes ice at one end to thicken and become mushy. Ice on the 80-by-60-foot rectangle’s opposite end, near the bandstand, thins and becomes brittle. The underlying tarp occasionally breaks through and the bandstand end must be blocked off with small sawhorses and rope.

“By leveling it out a bit, we can hopefully keep a more consistent ice surface,’’ said Bob Burnham, one of The Hosers spurring the fundraising effort through the town’s finance office. “When we get a thaw, water flows into the deeper end and we have a really hard time re-establishing the shallow end.”

That means less space for skating and frustration for The Hosers, who drag 100 feet of their namesake tubing from a connection at the school and often endure bitter cold and ice-glazed extremities while scraping and spraying. It’s not uncommon to pass the intersection of Main and Elm Streets near midnight and see a solitary figure, heavily bundled, lugging the hose back and forth across the ice. The rink is generally in place from late December through early March.

“They do such a good job of keeping the ice nice and it’s an extraordinary effort,” said Brooke Ciardelli, a Norwich resident whose 9-year old son, William, attends the adjacent Marion Cross School and enjoys skating on the rink. “You see them taking a real sense of pride and it benefits the whole community.”

Jill Kearney Niles, the town’s longtime recreation director, said community resident Jeff Marshall started the rink roughly a decade ago and labored alone for most of that time. About four years ago, others were recruited so Marshall could step aside, and The Hosers were born. Burnham handles resurfacing on Thursday nights even though his sons, ages 11 and 13, rarely skate on the rink. He said it’s a good way to give back and to meet like-minded people. Each of The Hosers is donating $50 to the current cause, he added.

“This is a great part of living in such a beautiful part of the country,’’ said Burnham, a computer programmer at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business who tackles the two-hour job while wearing a headlamp and often with warming packets in his boots and gloves. “You see the kids out here skating and if I can help that happen with one night of work, it’s worth it.”

Burnham said drivers often honk or shout out greetings while he works and that one stopped and told him he always brings his skates with him while driving from Boston to Burlington so he can take a quick spin around the Norwich rink. Another time, some Dartmouth students, up late while enduring final exams, tentatively approached Burnham after he had finished spraying and asked if they could carve up his handiwork as a study break.

“People thank us almost too much,” said Burnham, whose group is hoping to raise at least $5,000 in coming weeks so that piping and a frost-free faucet can be installed near the newly-leveled location. “You see people coming out of school board meetings at 10 at night and those are the people who impress me with how hard they’re working.”

Bill Hammond recently concluded his first academic year as Marion Cross principal and said the rink is part of a mentoring program between the school’s older and younger students. The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders read to their younger counterparts and teach them other skills, including skating on the rink, which lies on school property. Used skates have been stockpiled over the years for those who don’t own them and to quote William Ciardelli, “you have to wear a helmet or a really fluffy hat” while out on the ice.

“The kids develop a love of skating and they don’t find doing it to be unusual,’’ said Brooke Ciardelli, whose son arrives at Marion Cross by bus about half an hour before classes start and often skates in the interim when the rink is available. “It’s a better way of engaging their physical energies than having a snowball fight and lots of kids have play dates at the rink after school or on the weekends.”

Elisabeth Hoehn, a Norwich resident who recently completed her freshman year at Hanover High, said she regularly skated on the Green as a Marion Cross student and that her family sometimes used the rink on the weekends.

“If you want to skate at Campion Rink (in West Lebanon), you need a ride and you have to pay,’’ she said. “Here, it’s free and I could walk to it.”

Niles said the rink comes up regularly in conversations with town newcomers who stop by her office to introduce themselves and investigate recreation options.

“The rink is sort of an icon for Norwich in winter,” she said. “So many people have told me over the years that they first drove into town during winter and fell in love with the scene on the Green, with the kids skating.”

Neil Fulton is another fan of the low-tech facility. The town manager said he had no problem recently recommending approval of the leveling project to the select board.

“It’s picturesque,’’ said Fulton, who previously lived in the Midwest. “You drive into town on a winter night and you see people skating out there, under the lights. That’s New England to me.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.

Related

Letter: Tending the Norwich Ice Rink

Monday, July 1, 2013

To the Editor: The Hosers are a generous and dedicated bunch (“Norwich ‘Hosers” Make the Grade,” June 21). When I began teaching at the Marion Cross School in the mid-1970s, then-principal Milton Frye was the devoted human Zamboni, tending the somewhat smaller, much loved, well-used ice rink with his shovel, pickup truck/plow and long green hose. He did this for …