Martin Mathews, 89, has pulled into the parking lot of the Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' club many a morning since co-founding the non-profit organization in 1960. But on Friday, Mathews drove in with a tear in his eye.
The property has witnessed a game of every sport imaginable, played by some 40,000 youth that now participate in the club annually. But never have they been able to host a hockey game.
As Mathews exited North Kingshighway into the parking lot Friday, he saw several employees of the St. Louis Blues and Clayco, a local contractor, erecting the walls of new street hockey rink.
According to Blues owner Tom Stillman, Mathews walked up and "with a big grin, he said, 'I just thought I'd never see a hockey rink here at Mathews-Dickey.' It was really a nice moment."
The 98-feet by 40-feet permanent structure will be called the "St. Louis Blues 14 Fund Rink of Dreams." The 14 Fund is the team's long-standing charitable trust, which has a mission "to positively impact programs and services that improve health and wellness of youth in the St. Louis area."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony, which some Blues players are expected to attend, is planned for next week, followed by a two-week hockey clinic for the children.
"When I started this," Mathews said, "I never dreamed that would happen, seeing the day that a first-class rink went up ... where kids can say, 'Not only can I go to the games or see it on TV but I can be a participant. I think that's what makes me feel good, that they know in America you can do anything you want to do if you have a determination."
Stillman said that Blues Hall of Famer Brett Hull had some involvement with Mathews-Dickey "back in the day," and recently the team has held one-day events at the club using an inflatable rink. But in the last few years, there's been a desire to do more.
"I know that in my mind doing something with Mathews-Dickey has been at the top of the community list just because they're such a tremendous organization," Stillman said. "We want to be involved in all parts of the community and this is bringing hockey to a grass-roots level at what I see as one of the premier kids' organizations in the city."
Overseeing the construction of the rink Friday, Stillman said: "It's pretty dramatic. It's not easy to take that from an idea to actual execution. And having a (street hockey rink) just makes it accessible for everybody. You don't have to rent ice time, you don't have to have skates. You can just come out and play and start to understand and enjoy the game.
"Then if you get more interested, you start moving onto the ice and everything else. But this is a way to provide immediate access to what we think is the greatest game on earth. I'm proud of the organization ... everyone who made it happen."
The 14 Fund will donate the equipment and nets. Clayco contributed the concrete and building supplies for the rink.
But as Clayco executive VP Tom Sieckhaus noted Friday, the success of the project is not about the material.
"It'll be even better when it gets used," Sieckhaus said. "It's kind of like how we build buildings. The buildings are nice, but it's what goes on inside them that really matters."
Mathews knows the rink will get a workout.
As he walked through his office Friday, Mathews joked with the club's director of operations, LeRoy Witherspoon: "This is the guy that I want to get in that rink with. I want to get him with my stick."
Mathews then turned serious, saying of the 57-year-old Witherspoon: "He started here as a young guy and that's why I was kidding him. He would have been happy if he could have been able to participate. He played baseball, football and all that, but never hockey. And that's what it's all about — that opportunity.
"African-Americans never had the opportunity, but this will give them the opportunity to participate. Now you can make that dream come true."
Mathews-Dickey will host two five-week summer camps, running from June 2-July 3 and July 7-Aug.8, and street hockey will be among the activities. The camps, which are for children ages 6-14, are still enrolling. For more information, call 314-382-5952.