Cheers echo throughout the rafters of the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex as Louie Bortolussi makes his way up and down the ice.
Chants of “Lou!” are commonplace. Smiles and waves from children and fans in the stands are his reward.
For 30 years now, Bortolussi has been one of several smiling, friendly faces working at the CMRC — known to many in the community who frequent the arena, and even to those who don’t — as a Facility Maintenance Specialist, or, the guy who drives the Zamboni.
Among his other duties, he also helps a team of city staff do general maintenance on both the ice arenas and at the pool, making sure the facility is clean and ensuring things are running smoothly on weekends for the various user groups who frequent the facility.
Now 55 years old, Bortolussi was in his early 20s when he came to Williams Lake from his hometown of Fruitvale to visit his girlfriend at the time.
“That was back in March of 1988,” he said. “They were building this new arena, and I’d heard from a friend they were looking for some people to finish it up. I got hired on at that time with the Cariboo Regional District, and then in July of 1991 the city took over [running the facility] and I’ve been here ever since.”
It was 1989 when Bortolussi said he was first asked to drive the Zamboni.
“I still remember,” he said. “I’d been doing some janitorial stuff and I got asked to do some driving. It was the Junior A Mustangs game. Clint Greenoff from 100 Mile and Jack Simpson trained me.”
There have been jeers and many cheers over the years from people at the facility, Bortolussi said, and it’s something he’s always enjoyed about his job cleaning the ice.
“Every time I get out there I have people yelling at me,” he joked. “Go, Louie! Or Lou! You see kids as you’re driving by. Every time I go out there I’d be giving them a wave.
“Sometimes when you hear people yelling at you you’re too nervous to look up and see who it is, so you just keep driving. But the look on the little kids’ faces that you go by, and then you honk the horn — it’s just great.”
In four more years, Bortolussi said he’ll be able to retire, but added he’ll miss the job, the people and his co-workers.
“I don’t really want to leave,” he said. “When I do leave I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’ll miss the people.”
Bortolussi’s made several friends on the job and met many colourful people from the community over the years. He said the people he works with have always made him feel a part of a team.
“I’m one of the original arena guys here,” he said. “When I came here to Williams Lake I wasn’t sure I would stay, but the job made me want to.
“Now, I’m cleaning ice for peoples’ kids who were kids playing hockey here when I started. They’re now grandparents and parents. It’s absolutely crazy, and I’ve seen it all.”