It took an Island to build the Martha’s Vineyard Arena

There was ice but not much more when the Arena got up and running in 1974. — Photo courtesy of MV Arena

Ice skating rinks are unique, full of life.

Stand in an empty, quiet rink and you feel a sense of anticipation. The ice surface seems to be waiting for the arabesques of figure skaters, the hurly-burly of hockey, or to become a flowing river on which public skaters glide at the same pace.

It’s especially true of rinks of a certain age, like the 39-year old Martha’s Vineyard Arena (MVA). Like most public rinks of the 1960s and 1970s, the MVA tottered into life and grew in stages, as pieces and parts were added until it emerged in a complete form. These days the rink bustles nine months a year, home to high school hockey, amateur hockey leagues, youth hockey, tournaments, figure skating, and youth instructional work at all levels.

The MVA is more real for us thanks to the efforts of dedicated volunteers who, in 1973, laid piping and created an ice surface which they cleaned with a small plow on a Jeep. Side boards were added soon after.

That the MVA survived is due to those early efforts. That is has flourished is the result of Gayle and Bob Mone’s desire to memorialize the life of their late son, Ryan, and the effect their story had on Bob Levine, a summer resident who lives in Colorado and is credited with the major underwriting of the development of a quality facility.

Inside the rink, a grainy black and white picture, almost 40 years old, depicts a sheet of ice under a few light poles surrounded by a chain link fence on the Edgartown Road in Oak Bluffs across from the high school. The rink remained open to the weather from 1974 until 1983 when a roof was installed from funding by residents and from notables, including Fairleigh S. Dickinson, founder of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J.

The MVA became a year-round facility in 1997 when side walls were added to make it a fully enclosed rink.

Ryan Mone was 17 years old in 1998, a senior member of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School hockey team, when his life ended in a auto accident on New Year’s Eve. The following year, Gayle and Bob Mone began a drive to improve the MVA facilities. They committed to raise funds to replace plywood dressing rooms with heated locker rooms and showers. The Mones told their story to a local newspaper and Bob Levine read it.

“He called us out of the blue one day and asked what (the locker rooms) would cost,” Bob Mone recalled recently. “The next day, a check for $350,000 arrived,” Mr. Mone said.

That was the just beginning of an ongoing 12-year commitment by Mr. Levine, who lives in Colorado in the winter. “Ever since that day, Bob has given something every year,” Gayle Mone said. “When we had to raise a big chunk, he gave a big chunk. He has been amazing. We think the world of Bob and his wife, Tara. There is nothing we wouldn’t do for him.”

Some of the chunks Mr. Levine has provided included more than $120,000 in 2009 for a replacement Zamboni, an ice-cleaning machine, manufactured in California. As the Mones recalled Mr. Levine’s passion for the MVA, they noted that Mr. Levine has visited the rink, established relationships with staff and volunteers, and he shows up at fundraisers sponsored by Ice Savours, the MVA fundraising entity.

“One year, we had an ice cream cone as an auction item from a donor with limited resources who just wanted to help. Bob bought the ice cream cone for $25,000,” Ms. Mone said. Despite his beneficence, Mr. Levine, a succesful computer entrepreneur, has a minimal public profile and does not seek attention for his contribution.

“Bob Levine is a very private guy,” said board member Michael McCormack recently. “He doesn’t seek attention, but I can tell you this: without Bob Levine, there would not be an MVA.” Mr. McCormack, sheriff of Dukes County, has been involved in the rink since its earliest days.

Mike Hathaway, an MVA employee, interacts with Mr. Levine more than anyone else in the MVA community. “Nobody really knows how much Bob Levine does for communities — and not just here,” Mr Hathaway said last Saturday afternoon, shepherding kids and families onto the ice for a public skating session, before hockey games began later in the afternoon.

“I’ve known Bob probably 30 years,” Mr. Hathaway said. “He’s one of those guys who always shows up in the nick of time to help. Always.” Mr. Hathaway probably has Mr. Levine’s phone number as do a number of people who contributed to this story. But, like his colleagues, he respects Mr. Levine’s public reticence, denying a request for a phone number from a reporter intrigued to speak with a man of good will.

What we learned is that Mr. Levine has been successful as a computer technologist and entrepreneur.

Now the rink that he and the community brought to life is a mature building, with 40 years of assorted aches and pains and energy costs that eat up more than half of its $350,000 annual operating budget. Board member Peter, a member of MVRHS hockey team in the early 1980s, remembers how important the rink has been to Island hockey.

“Before the rink, we would have to go to Falmouth to get ice time and that was difficult and expensive. Generally we just went to play games,” he recalled last week. “Without Bob Levine, there would not be a rink on Martha’s Vineyard.”

As news stories this year have indicated, the MVA board is considering a rehab, even replacing the MVA facility in the future. “We need to balance future needs with present day needs,” Mr. Gillis said, noting that the MVA will spend time organizing itself to handle the challenges of operating in the black today while also planning for future improvements.

The idea going forward is to build on the work of the MVA founders with the help of the community, the commitment of the Mone family to ensure the legacy of their son, and the quiet, steady, and ongoing support of Bob Levine, a man touched by their story.