The latter seems to be the case with Nat Goudy, manager of Wheeling Park. Sure, he has plenty of staff as back up. But having started his work life at the very same park — at age 14 — he has pretty much done everything there is to do at that massive facility.
And, as needed, he still does.
This time of year, a day’s work can find him dealing with contractor bids in the office or sharpening skate blades in a tiny room off Memorial Ice Rink. Or smoothing out the ice with a Zamboni machine. Or calling a couples skate over the intercom so an area guy has the opportunity for a dramatic marriage proposal. Or making sure wee skaters are lacing up tightly enough to avoid injury.
It’s all good, Goudy said. As long as he stays warm.
“I can’t stand the cold,” he admitted. Goudy paused a moment from his rapid-fire interview style and laughed at that incongruity.
“The guy that runs the ice rink. He can’t stand the cold! When it’s really cold, you’ll see me out on the Zamboni in like a snow suit, and you’ll just see my eyes because I’ve got a face mask on, too.”
FEELING THE LOVE
What makes him love his job even when temperatures are in the teens? It’s the people, especially the young ones who are just learning to appreciate Wheeling Park, he said.
“Seeing them get that first hole-in-one on the mini-golf course or go down the water slide for the first time — that’s priceless,” Goudy said. “And, I get to see it every day. I just like seeing people.”
And, the people sometimes include his family.
“I met my wife here,” Goudy noted. That summer when he was 14 — and getting his start in a lifelong career by sweeping up around the pool — the future Sharon Goudy was also working at the park at that time.
Over the next few years, he stocked the refreshment stand, became a lifeguard and eventually caught her eye. “In college, we started dating, and she’s been the happiest person ever since,” Goudy said, laughing again. “That’s what I like to tell her.”
The couple’s daughter, Maria Goudy, also began working at Wheeling Park at the tender age of 14. Like father, like mother, like daughter: “She does everything.” And, again, she still does.
Now in college, Maria Goudy was scheduled to work at the rink while home on Thanksgiving break. Goudy was also planning on getting her out on the ice just for fun. He might not love the cold, but he still likes to skate.
“I don’t go out as much as I used to,” Goudy said. “I like to tell people I have a hamstring injury, but, to be honest, I can skate. I don’t do jumps or anything, but I can skate.”
He laughs, mimicking the shock on today’s teens’ faces when they realize this. “They see me as the old man walking around and yelling at them,” he said. “When they see me out on the ice, they say, ‘You can skate?!’”
“Probably better than you,” he responds under his breath.
As he has moved up the management ranks, he has also learned to direct youth not unlike his teen self. The rink alone has about 30 part-time staff, many of them teens juggling school, extra-curriculars and their very first paid work.
“It’s how I started, (but) how do you motivate a 14-year-old to work when they’re going to have to do this every day for the rest of their life?”
His solution is to make work kind of crazy fun. An example: If he’s discussing dealing with waterfowl on the park’s pond with summer staff, he might make a deadpan request that staff wrist band the ducks. “At least they’ll know we have ducks,” he noted.
And, turnabout is fair play. Rink workers, knowing his dislike of the cold, occasionally find his key ring and put it in the — drumroll, please — freezer.
When work combines that kind of fun and some income to boot, he said he would not be surprised to find some of today’s rink workers still on the job decades from now.
“You’ll actually find that a lot — lots of people in the park system that stayed because we love it.”
He also tries to keep things calm and joyful, even when the occasional skater splits the skin on his chin or the ice gets crowded on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Phfft, that’s not crowded,” he commented of Gen Z peak times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s — when Gen X was in its skating heyday — he said there were sometimes more than 600 skaters out on a weekend evening. “The only way you fell down was if you did it on purpose.”
A HAPPY BUSINESS
Managing a park is not all Zamboni runs and frozen keys, of course. Currently, Goudy and the Wheeling Park Commission are pondering bids for a new floor to the rink, stage two of a renovation project that has already brought more than $800,000 in recent upgrades.
Not that the old floor doesn’t still have the power to amaze, he noted. When the Wheeling Nailer’s home rink developed serious melting problems early this season, the Commission asked him to ice the public rink at the beginning of October, about three weeks earlier than normal and during a heat spell.
He was a bit skeptical when he pushed the button that launched brine cooled to 20 degrees Fahrenheit through more than five miles of tubing under the rink floor, but he did it.
“We were making ice the same week we were prepping for Oglebay Fest,” Goudy said. “I was kind of impressed we had ice when it was 90 degrees. We’d done it in the 70s before, but never the 90s.”
Goudy smiled. He does like a challenge.
On the day of his interview with Weelunk, he had discovered a park in the Chicago area has a serpentine, trail-like “rink.”
“Ooo,” he said, pausing to imagine something like that at Wheeling Park. He conceded with a grimace that it just isn’t cold enough here.
Probably. Maybe. Well, you never know. …
A skilled skater himself, he remains impressed with the quality of the youth programs that also utilize the rink. Youth hockey and figure skating are a big part of the venue. Those skaters, like the Nailers, use the rink during hours that are closed to the general public.
Memorial Skating Rink is only open a little more than five months a year, but area hockey teams here are sometimes outcompeting players from cities that have year-round ice available, he said.
“The quality of the coaching here is outstanding. I don’t think people realize that,” he explained. “This is a top-notch program.”
He said the goal of performing in the annual Symphony on Ice (at WesBanco Arena) is also a big inspiration to figure skaters. “They’re so dedicated,” he said. “They’ll be out here when it’s 13 degrees.”
And, so will he. In his snowsuit.
• A long-time journalist, Nora Edinger also blogs at noraedinger.com and Facebook and writes books. Her Christian chick lit and faith-related non-fiction are available on Amazon. She lives in Wheeling, where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household.