BY ART BUKOWSKI
— BENZONIA - Jack Rineer doesn't do it to be thanked.
For more than four decades, Rineer has been the man behind a beloved community ice rink in Benzonia. He builds and maintains a roughly one-acre rink at Academy Park along U.S. 31, and he shouldered most or all of the rink's cost for most of its existence.
Rineer has put in countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars into the effort, but has no regrets. His payment comes when elderly visitors relive memories as they watch young skaters on the rink, or when children who brim with anticipation stop him in the grocery store and ask him when it will be open for the winter.
"There's no way to measure the personal satisfaction that I've received over the years, even though this has hurt me, it's frozen my lungs and my health is probably not as good as it should be because of it," he said.
The villages of Benzonia and Beulah kicked in a few thousand dollars each year for a decade or so to help cover fuel costs. A few years ago, when Rineer said he planned to retire in part because of the rink's ongoing costs, the community rallied.
"Basically, everyone I know was talking about it. We all like to skate, and we were horrified at the prospect there wouldn't be a rink," said Dennis Pace, a Benzonia-area resident who now helps raise money. "And nobody thought Jack didn't deserve some help after all of those years."
Pace heads an effort to reimburse Rineer for the roughly $8,000 cost of building and maintaining the rink. This is the third year -- Pace covered the entire cost the first year and was pretty close the next -- and he hopes the community will continue to be generous.
Rineer, a builder, uses the money to cover costs related to construction, continued plowing and other expenses. He does much of the work himself, but enlists help from others.
"The monies are not going to be wasted," Rineer said. "There is no more solid program anywhere. I've been perfecting this for 40 years."
Benzonia Township kicked in at least $1,000 for about a decade, township Supervisor Jim Sheets said. The rink is a huge community asset, he said, especially because of its inter-generational appeal.
"There's people in their 80s and kids putting on their skates for the first time," he said. "It's just a lot of family fun."
The rink doesn't cost anything to use and is open and lit all night long.
"Everybody can go skating for free," Rineer said. "In these hard and trying times, and times where everybody's saying that there's not enough for kids to do, that's not the case in Benzie County in the wintertime."
Rineer, who generally shies from the spotlight, hopes more people get involved in community work in their towns.
"So many people want to pump their fists when they do something," he said. "I'm not a hero. I'm just a guy who gets up in the morning and does a job. More people should do that and keep their mouths shut."
Those interested in donating can contact Pace at email@example.com.