So long, Sliver: Arena manager Sliver McGree to retire after 30 years on the job
Sliver McGree liked playing hockey as a youngster in Hastings. The problem, he said, was that he just wasn't very good.
"They couldn't cut me because they didn't have enough players," he said. "I was what you would call a great skater - but I had no hand skills. I could chase people and keep them away from the goalie."
In 1969, he graduated from Hastings High School, but not before he spent a few years working with the City of Hastings. He'd flood the outdoor hockey rinks over the winter.
After holding down a number of different jobs between 1970 and 1982, McGree came back to the city and went to work at the Civic Arena. Just two years later, he was the manager. Now, after hitting 30 years on the job, McGree is retiring.
"It's just time to move on to something else," he said. "I'd like to hook up with some farmers for spring and fall field work, just to get some fun money and get out of the hustle and bustle of the demand between October and April."
On Thursday night, prior to the last regular season HHS boys hockey game that he worked, McGree was honored in a ceremony that surprised him.
He started to think something was coming when he noticed a number of family members arriving at the arena.
"I saw some relatives coming in, and I thought, there has to be something going on," McGree said. "It was hard for them to stay away from me. I kept walking around - I do cover a lot of miles, all over the rink, so it's hard to hide."
Butch Klimek, who works at the scorer's table at the arena, then summoned McGree by telling him that something was wrong with the game clock. He was getting a shock every time he touched it, he told McGree.
"I said, 'You can't get a shock off of plastic,'" McGree said. "I knew that's how they were getting me there.
"When I walked down there, I saw Russ Welch and I said, 'Maybe this is bigger than just saying hello and goodbye.'
"Russ gave a real good sendoff. He gave a nice little commentary on my last 30 years."
For Welch, he said it was the least he could do.
"He's one of the most dedicated guys you'll ever see," Welch said. "He truly has a passion for the game of hockey and for the ice arena and how it's run. The passion he has for his job is second to none."
While Welch was in high school, he remembers seeing McGree flooding the rink at Kennedy Elementary for the varsity team practice every day. Soon, the two were related. Welch's wife's and McGree are cousins, and the Welch family sent their children to the daycare operated by McGree's wife Karen.
Behind that daycare, McGree would often times flood his own backyard rink so the daycare kids had something to play on.
McGree's final day at the arena is still about three months away, set for May 12, but things will slowly start to wind down now. The high school girls season is over and the boys are on the road in the section tournament. Youth teams are approaching the end of their seasons, too.
That means McGree will get to see his wife again real soon.
"The demand on the rink is growing," he said. "It's hard to get vacations in. To me, when the rink is open, you'd better be there. You can probably pick a day here or there, but that doesn't happen very often for me."
McGree said he tries to stay under 65 hours worked per week in the winter. During the summer, he gets those hours back, working shorter days.
These days, though, the arena has ice in June to give skaters a chance to get some summer time in.
He calls his wife "understanding."
"It would be pretty hard to hold onto a job like this otherwise," he said. "You're here all kinds of different hours."
In retirement, McGree hopes to spend more time with his three children, Stacy, Ryan and Sean, and his seven grandchildren.
McGree said he is thankful for all the hard work turned in by all the people he's worked with at the arena, including Jeff Elliott, the assistant arena manager.
"The arena couldn't run as well as it does without a good right-hand man in Jeff," McGree said. "He's made me look awful good."
In addition, there were five dedicated Zamboni drivers and two folks at the scorer's table who have more than 125 years of combined experience at the arena between the seven of them.
The city has been supportive over his 30 years, too, he said.
"It's been great working for the city," he said. "I'm glad they gave me the opportunity to run with the job without interfering with us. They let you run your program."
The 30 years were rewarding, challenging and fun, McGree said. He'll miss heading to the arena every day.
"This really hasn't been a job," he said. "When you love it, it's just part of your life."