As he looks toward retirement, Jerry Rinne is grateful for the role he was able to play in Sidner Ice Arena’s construction.
Rinne is president and chief executive officer of the Fremont Family YMCA. He served in various leadership roles beforehand.
Years ago, Rinne’s boss asked him to drive an older woman home from the Y.
Evelyn Sidner, a generous donor, was involved in several aerobics classes. Then in her upper 80s, Sidner was no longer driving and needed rides home.
Rinne apologized about his old car, but Sidner didn’t mind.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I have no problem with that.”
Sidner kept asking for rides and invited him in for cookies.
Some cookies tasted better than others.
“But I never had the heart to tell her,” Rinne said. “I just loved and admired this lady – her enthusiasm for kids. It made you feel good. Here’s this lady who was a multimillionaire who donated all her wealth to charities.”
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Sidner had outlived her husband, Arthur, and daughter, Anne. Sidner’s dream was to build an ice rink, because she recalled the smile on Anne’s face when she was ice skating. Sidner’s attorney Neil Schlike suggested the scope of the project.
But fulfilling Sidner’s wish was a challenge in a community where people didn’t go ice skating or play hockey or even had the equipment.
Sidner provided the large gift to build the ice arena and an endowment.
“For eight to 10 years, if it wasn’t for that endowment, there’s no way that ice rink would have been able to operate,” Rinne said.
During those years, the Y developed an “ice culture.”
“One way we developed it was teaching every second-grade kid how to skate,” Rinne said.
The Y worked with Fremont Public Schools to bus kids to the ice arena at 1558 E. Military Ave. The Y provided staff for a six-week program.
It developed a hockey program from scratch, bringing in some coaches from Omaha.
“Now, we’re one of the top hockey programs in the Midwest. We have over 200 kids who play hockey,” he said.
That includes players from little kids just learning the sport to teens who compete around the country. Coaching staffers include two National Hockey League players.
Hockey tournaments take place at the arena almost every weekend from November through March, providing an economic benefit to the city.
“We put more heads in the beds in hotel rooms than anything else that happens in Fremont, because we’re bringing teams from South Dakota, North Dakota, Washington (state), Arizona and Montana,” he said.
Many teams come from Kansas City and Des Moines.
Throughout the years, Rinne would learn much from Sidner.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have,” he said. “You can make a difference no matter who you are as long as you’re a nice person and do the right things.”