By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
Dan French considers the Union Arena his first-born child.
The community ice hockey rink that’s also used for high school sports and events, a circus and a community antique show, has been part of French’s life for more than a decade.
French recently announced that he would be part of the Union Arena no longer. He’s stepping down as the general manager in the next few weeks while Assistant General Manager Ejay Bishop takes control.
“I want somebody with a fresh set of eyes, somebody different, who can take it to the next level,” French said.
French left the Union Arena before — in 2001 and 2006. He came back when his child was in trouble — like when it still hadn’t been painted, or lacked bleachers and a sound system.
French came back in 2011 when the Union Arena was in financial trouble.
The arena was on the brink of closing because of old debt that had accumulated to the point where it couldn’t pay its electric bill. The Union Arena board requested $125,000 be released from the $450,000 WUHS endowment fund, which was created 10 years ago for building and maintenance repairs.
There was deferred maintenance that hadn’t been done when French came back in the summer of 2011.
“The arena was going way off to one side…we’re trying to get our vendors whole and get our programming back up and we had to spend some money to do that. Even though we’re doing the right thing, it puts us deeper into a hole in a way,” he said.
French gave the arena money from his own pocket that year.
“It was part of my life for a decade,” he said. “It’s like your kid; you do whatever you can to help it succeed. At some point it’s got to learn to stand on his own two feet, but if your kid is in trouble and needs your help, you give it.”
Hockey was part of French’s life growing up. It took him to Europe and the Soviet Union in the 1980s as a back-up goalie.
“It taught me so much about teamwork, commitment, sacrifice,” he said. “That’s part of why buildings like this are so important, it gives kids a place to learn those skills.”
French was one of the advocates for the Union Arena in the beginning. The first meeting for it happened in his living room in 1993.
“Part of it is, my family has a long family history in Woodstock and I’m honored to be part of that. I’ve wanted to do something to make the community better,” he said.
With an anonymous $50,000 donation earlier this year and the strongest summer ice the Union Arena has ever seen, with a new leader and a committed board, French said the Union Arena its in the strongest shape it’s ever been in.
“It took a while to rebuild that trust, but its there now, again,” he said.
Bishop has nearly a 20-year background in sports management. He doesn’t expect to make any rash changes until he gets comfortable with the facility.
“Dan and the folks that have been this facility over the years have established a great foundation and I hope to build on that foundation,” he said.
French will continue working as Bishop’s assistant for the next 2-3 weeks. He said he’ll be back to volunteer and to help, but he’s ready to let the Union Arena test its own wings.
“If I do come back it’s because there’s a problem. The arena needs to be successful without me,” he said.