In the early 1970s, Highland Park lacked an ice rink, forcing skaters and hockey players to use Lake Forest's facility.
The void was filled in 1973 and Centennial Ice Arena is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a North Shore institution with a big bash on Oct. 19 sponsored by the Park District of Highland Park.
Centennial offers a variety of programs for all ages, but the original concept, said Wally Kormylo, the rink's first manager, was to capitalize on the growing popularity of ice sports.
"During that time, Glenview, Wilmette, Winnetka — they all wanted ice rinks," Kormylo said. "And so the head of the Park Board happened to be a hockey nut. I used to teach him and his kids at Lake Forest. He eventually said, 'Boy, this would be a great thing to have in Highland Park.'"
The Park District got behind the idea and helped recruit backers. It was funded with a $690,000 bond. The finishing touches came, from all things, some leftover paint.
"The same people that built the Glenview Ice Center built ours. They had an over-abundance of paint and gave us the leftovers," Kormylo said. "Everyone was complaining about how dark it was in there until we got that yellow paint from Glenview to brighten it up!"
Kormylo still holds the positions of rink manager, ice director, hockey director and figure skating director.
"We have such strong user groups like the Falcons Hockey Association and the Highland Park Giants," said Dan Malartsik, assistant director of facilities. "They're the ones who really keep us going."
The celebration on Oct. 19 will acknowledge all users through the years.
"It's going to be all about community pride and families coming together," said Margaret Behlow, director of communications and marketing at the Park District. "We'll be putting together a slideshow of all the photos we could find in the archives since the very beginning."
Don't be surprised to see one particular person during this display. Jason Brown began skating at Centennial at age 3 and is now an Olympic hopeful for 2014. The international skater and Highland Park High School grad traces his career back to the facility.
"It's a central part of the Highland Park community, and I attribute a great deal of my skating success to the staff at Centennial," Brown said, speaking from Germany where he is currently competing. "They nurtured my love for skating, and so many incredible memories and moments in my life have occurred in that rink."
The slideshow might also include the hectic yet exhilarating opening week in 1973. Kormylo remembers nothing short of an organized frenzy.
"The people in Highland Park were simply in love with it. On opening day, we had hoards of people," he said. "We stayed open 24/7 for about four years straight. Some of the public skating sessions easily had 300 to 400 people."
With a plethora of entertainment and activities planned as part of the celebration, people are expected to once again pack the arena.
"It's going to be quite the party," said Nick Meo, Centennial manager. "There will be a live DJ, giveaways, food, raffles, open skating and open gymnastics; really just something for everybody."
The future for Centennial involves the GreenPrint 2024 initiative, aimed at improving or expanding the Park District's nine main facilities, which include Centennial.
"We're working with an outside consultant to complete a comprehensive master plan for all of our parks, facilities and programs. We surveyed the community in 2009 and have a follow-up going on now," said Liza McElroy, executive director of the Park District. "We're doing this to determine what the future entails for the PDHP. Will there be an expansion for Centennial? We don't know. The one thing you can bank on at any ice rink — there's always a demand for more ice time.
The anniversary bash takes place from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at Centennial Ice Arena.
For more information, go to pdhp.org.