After 28 years of driving the Zamboni at Geneseo’s Wilson Ice Arena, 80-year-old Donna Recktenwald is used to being the center of attention.
Fans always cheer when she drives out onto the ice. “The small kids, they wave to me and if I know somebody I wave to them,” she says, "but you’ve got to concentrate on what you’re doing too.”
Donna originally took a job as a maintenance assistant at Geneseo in 1986 after working as a cleaner at Noyes Hospital. She was responsible for maintaining the swimming pools, lining the athletic fields and of course, driving the Zamboni.
“I caught on pretty fast because I was brought up on a farm and I used to drive tractors, so driving it came to me pretty easy,” she says.
Donna retired officially in 1997, but was back a week later when the athletic director asked her to continue driving the Zamboni on weekends for the rest of the season. That was 17 years ago.
She’s been driving on weekends for free skates, figure skating and some hockey games ever since. In all those years she only missed a single weekend, when her husband, Paul, passed away. Donna will retire officially this March.
For all of the Zamboni fans who wonder how it works: One of the toughest parts of driving that Zamboni is sticking to the schedule, says Donna. She’s got just 10 minutes to wash and shave the ice, pull off the rink and shovel snow from under the Zamboni. If she doesn’t start the clock for the next group of skaters on time, it throws off the schedule for the entire day.
But she’s got it under control. “It’s just routine for me now because I’ve done it for so long,” she says.
Donna has kept at it for all these years, not necessarily because she’s a sports fan, but because loves the people on the ice. All of the friends Donna has made over the years at the ice rink honored her after the first period of the Ice Knights game on Feb. 8.
“I love to be with people and that’s the reason I guess I like it so well down here,” she says. “I like the students, coaches, the parents, everybody. I’m a people person.”
— By Chelsea Butkowski '15