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Outdoor ice rinks return to Lewiston

LEWISTON — Picture winter-time fun in Minnesota and an ice rink with people playing hockey and ice skating usually springs to mind. But for decades, the small city of Lewiston has not had this quintessential Minnesota amenity — until now.

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Joel Hennessy, center right, president and executive director of the Crossing Center in Lewiston, with the help of his family, from left, Thomas Hennessy, 18, Elizabeth Hennessy, 21, wife Jodi Hennessy, Sarah Hennessy, 5, Kaitliyn Hennessy, 23, and Anna Hennessy, 13, built an outdoor ice skating rink and warming house at Crossing Center in Lewiston.
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LEWISTON — Picture winter-time fun in Minnesota and an ice rink with people playing hockey and ice skating usually springs to mind. But for decades, the small city of Lewiston has not had this quintessential Minnesota amenity — until now.

It all began with an impromptu conversation about ice rinks. In mid-August, members of the Lewiston Trails Committee were visiting The Crossings Center to talk about possible trail routes. The center, established by the nonprofit Christian Crossings, is focused on providing activities for youth and families in the community free of charge. Joel Hennessy is the center's executive director and serves on the trails committee.

While committee members wandered around The Crossings Center property, the discussion suddenly turned to ice rinks.

"We were just reminiscing about the old days when the city had a rink, and we're talking probably 20 years ago. It's been a long time," Hennessy said.

And that's when Hennessy decided it was time that Lewiston once again have a community ice rink. Families with children who participate in hockey and ice skating have to make a 17-mile round-trip drive to Winona in order to practice. The rink would give children and families another recreational opportunity — something that is lacking in the city of 1,564.

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"It was a response to a small community really looking for things for their kids and families to do and a willing organization — or maybe we should say a crazy enough organization — willing to do it," Hennessy said.

To make the ice rink a reality, Hennessy would need plenty of help. And he got it.The owner of Lewiston's Hardware Hank stepped forward and agreed to buy the ice rink kit — complete with boards and liner. Then Hennessy got an unexpected phone call from friend who happened to be driving through town with a bulldozer.

"We just jumped in both feet, and we leveled a large area," he said.

And the donations kept coming. Local businesses and residents donated lights for the rinks, wood to build a warming house, doors and patio heaters for the warming house and ice skates. With so much help for the effort, it was decided to build not just one ice rink, but two. Hennessy, his wife and five children built the rinks and warming house. The Lewiston Volunteer Fire Department agreed to flood the rinks with 15,000 gallons of water. On Dec. 16, the community celebrated the ice rinks' grand opening.

Among those turning out for the grand opening was Eric Shurson. The hockey dad and coach serves on the Lewiston Trails Committee and was one of the members talking about bringing back an ice rink. He said he is thrilled the city once again has an outdoor rink.

"It's beautiful. Personally, I think it's the nicest outdoor rink in southern Minnesota," Shurson said.

Also delighted to see the return of ice rinks in town is Holly Jacobs, owner of Swizzels & Spins in Winona and a Lewiston resident. She donated 21 rental ice skates to the The Crossings Center. Her two daughters, ages 12 and 14, are helping teach people to ice skate at rinks. She is also volunteering to supervise the rinks.

"It is really important. Lewiston is a small community. There's not a lot to do. It's nice to keep families together and active and not on social media," she said.

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As for Hennessy, the ice rinks are just the start of the major upgrades planned to The Crossings Center. In 2007, Christian Crossings purchased the abandoned farm site in the middle of Lewiston with hopes of turning it into a community gathering spot.

Slowly but surely, the land has been developed. It houses the Lewiston Area Veterans Memorial, a youth center and a large playground. But Hennessy has big dreams. The nonprofit is in the quiet phase of a $700,000 capital campaign with plans to do more improvements to the site.

Plans include renovating a 75-year-old barn so it can be used for wedding receptions, converting a storage building into a wellness center with a fitness area and greenhouse, and paving the center's gravel driveway and parking lot.

"Hopefully, if everything goes well, we'll be able to go into a public campaign in February," he said.

As for the ice rinks, Hennessy said they are getting rave reviews. There's just one problem — Hennessy doesn't know how to ice skate. It sounds like it will take awhile for the 49-year-old to get the hang of it.

"My kids forced me (to skate), and they said, 'Dad, you really don't have a choice.You built this rink. You need to skate.' And it's been ugly," Hennessy said.

He added, "It's kind of funny what God calls us to do. I've said he has the greatest sense of humor of anybody."

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Want to lace up?

The ice rinks at The Crossings Center, 170 S. Fremont Street, in Lewiston are open from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Admission is free. Skate rental is $3. For more information, go to Facebook.com/thecrossingscenter .

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The new ice skating rink and warming house at Crossing Center in Lewiston Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017.

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