I spent my formative years in a collection of hockey arenas, and it seems like I’ve never been to Toledo when it wasn’t ten-cent beer night.
Let me explain. When I was 14, my father, Robert Stork, formed a consortium with his friends and bought the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League. Dad was the senior partner in Dupuis and Ryden, a respected CPA firm in town. His coworker, Jack De Yonker, was also an investor, along with clients Bernie McAra (son of the late Harry McAra, a Genesee County Circuit judge) and Dr. Eugene Chardoul, current owner of the Generals.
We were all well acquainted with the team, as Dad's firm had been their CPA since inception. We used to meet at the home of Generals founders Frank and Helen Gallagher and walk across Center Road to the arena. Yes, they literally lived across the street. Talk about a short commute.
It was very much a family business for us. My mother, the late Patricia Stork, managed the box office and worked each game night. She truly loved the team and was a hockey fan to her last days. I worked souvenirs in high school, choosing the lucky number winners for each game and managing the inventory of miniature sticks and pucks, which came from Czechoslovakia and cost 23 cents each.
We followed the Generals on the road. As a teenager, my buddy Steve and I were allowed to hop the team bus and ride with the team — pretty cool for a 15 year old —including weekend trips to play the Milwaukee Admirals for back to back series when they joined the IHL. Mom and I also drove to many games, sometimes with friends but often just the two of us.
We made a lot of friends during that time. Doug and Betty Rewbotham and the Wilsons from the Booster Club; Len and Luann Hoyes from the Journal; Pete and Ann Sark from WFDF; and just fans that mom got to know from the box office. John and Mary Andrewski were a retired couple that we saw in every city of the league. Carolyn Kilbury was a devoted fan before she was an employee. It was like an insiders club. There were fans at home games but true fans followed the team on the road, and they were like an extended family.
My dad's proudest hour came in late 1979. He agreed to a fundraiser exhibition game against the struggling U.S. Olympic Team to help them raise money. They spent two days in Flint, touring and preparing for the game. Although they defeated our beloved Generals easily, we all adopted them as our own and cheered them loudly. We felt personal pride when they won the gold in 1980.
For each city, there is something memorable that sticks in my brain.
Muskegon's arena was literally bordering on Lake Michigan. The poor old abandoned S. S. Aquarama was moored outside. The ship became like a landmark to me. It wasn't until years later that I researched her and figured out what she was.
Port Huron was a hell trip on unfinished two-lane M21. The halfway point was a dive called Velma's Road House outside of Capac. The arena didn’t have seats behind the goals, and the announcer was the worst in the league. I called him Mr. Monotone.
Saginaw's arena was attached to a downtown mall, part of a redevelopment plan that had some traction in the mid-seventies. They were the first team I know of to use "Rock and Roll Part II" as their theme song.
Grand Rapids played in an ice arena that started out as a sports venue, became a supermarket, then a theater, then back to an arena. I swore the ice surface was not level.
The Kalamazoo Wings had their act together. They were the Red Wings farm team, and were the best-marketed and best-presented team in the league. Even their Zamboni was better than ours — it had mag wheels.
But I swear, every time we played in Toledo it was ten-cent beer night. Who knows, maybe it’s always ten-cent beer night in Toledo. They'd put on extra window washers to keep the glass relatively clear of spilled brew, slobber, and who knows what else so that the more sober fans could follow the action. After the game, we would all carry a hockey stick so that we could make it to the team bus. Then we'd go to Tony Packos for world famous hot dogs.