by Sarah Amador
Growing up, the image of Snoopy atop a red doghouse soaring the skies was part of every breakfast, as we fought over the comics while Mom or Dad read the newspaper. Most of us have chuckled over Cheerios at the antics of Peanuts’ characters—Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy and rest of the gang.
We all have our favorite Peanuts character; mine is Charlie Brown. I love how honest he is with himself, how shy and insecure he is. With 350 million worldwide daily readers over a period of five decades, it is safe to say that Peanuts has become part of our collective memory, our history.
Schulz wrote the comic daily from 1950 to 2000, creating nearly 18,000 strips, authoring one of the longest stories of all time. At the height of its success, it was published daily in 21 languages in 75 countries in 2,600 newspapers around the world. It’s more than just worldwide… Snoopy has been to the moon.
This year, 2019, marks many 50-year anniversaries for Peanuts. It’s been 50 years since the Apollo 10 lunar module, nicknamed Snoopy, went to the moon as part of the pioneering mission that paved the way for astronauts to land on the moon. It’s been 50 years since the 1969 music festival that gave Woodstock his name. And it’s been 50 years since Charles Schulz and Joyce, his first wife, decided to build an ice rink for Sonoma County, our community’s beloved Snoopy’s Home Ice (also known as the Redwood Empire Ice Arena).
Beginning Friday, April 26, the arena will celebrate with the community, Charles M. Schulz’s family, contributors and employees with a three-day celebration. On opening night, visitors can view the 50th Anniversary Exhibition in Snoopy’s Gallery & Gift Shop, which will showcase historical pictures and memorabilia. On Saturday, April 27, there will be an opening ceremony and dedication, including a panel discussion at the neighboring Schulz Museum, with people who have been involved with the rink for a long time.
On Sunday, April 28, the arena and café will offer 1969 prices for the day. Children will be able to ice skate for 75 cents; adults for $1.35. From 10:30am to 4:00pm at the Warm Puppy Café, you will be able buy the Snoopy Special for 75 cents—a hot dog, chips and Jello. Later that day, the Northbay Guns and Hoses Hockey Club will compete to raise money for charity.
Originally looking in the Monterey area, their agent suggested a place in Sebastopol… “the Coffee Grounds”. They fell in love with it. “They wanted to be out of the snow,” Craig Schulz, son of Charles Schulz, explained.
In the mid-60s, the family was informed that their local skating rink was going to be condemned because of a faulty roof. The owners couldn’t afford to fix the building.
“Sparky loved skating,” Craig Schulz explains, using Schulz’s nickname (given to him by his uncle, after the character Sparkplug from the “Barney Google” comic strip). “He grew up skating in Minnesota.” Schulz also grew up playing hockey. His wife and children skated. The skating rink was a big part of who they were.
The ice arena was engineered so no pillars would obscure the views from the seats. The construction team built the concrete trusses on site and then lifted them into place. In 1969 this was an impressive engineering innovation. Photo courtesy of Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa, California and Skippy Baxter, photographer.
“Joyce thought, why don’t we build one for the community?” Craig recounted. Joyce Schulz was passionate about building the ice rink. They took pictures of Swiss chalets, and made replicas. They took pictures of scenes in Switzerland, and recreated the scenes in hand-painted murals lining the rink. The flags are the flags of counties in Switzerland. Trees were designed by Hollywood set designers. The rink was opened by the Schulz family in 1969. And the family has supported the community ever since.
“He loved this rink. This was his skating rink,” says son Craig. “This was where he played hockey with friends.”
His daughter, Jill, became the first of the arena’s competitors to pass all tests to qualify to skate at the senior level in National competition. She received the gold level from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for Figure and Freestyle.
“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” – Snoopy
In 1969, Apollo 10’s lunar module was named “Snoopy” because its mission was to “snoop around” the moon, skimming the moon’s surface within 50,000 feet to confirm that the Apollo 11 suggested landing site was the best one. Apollo 10’s command module was called “Charlie Brown.” Special Snoopy pins were designed by Peanuts licensee Don Fraser and presented to each pioneering astronaut, Gene Cernan, John Young and Thomas Stafford, who traveled to the moon for one final checkout. Snoopy had already been named by NASA as their safety mascot, since the 1967 Apollo 1 fire disaster.
The year before, Schulz created the character Franklin, who was African-American. Often, the Peanuts characters voiced what its readers in the United States were feeling. In one strip, Peppermint Patty talks to Franklin about Martin Luther King’s dream, and how, before King’s dream, the two of them wouldn’t even be sitting there, next to each other. In 1943, Schulz himself was drafted into the Army; he often wrote about the horrors of war. Franklin tells Charlie Brown that his dad was in Vietnam, like many children’s fathers of the time. In 1969, in one comic strip, Snoopy says, dejectedly and with his head on the table, “Curse this stupid war!”
Many of Schulz’s ideas for the comics came from the ice arena. “This is where he was inspired,” Craig Schulz said. “He got most ideas just from observing the world, and the arena was no exception. He refused to place any idea that came from others into the strip.”
For a while, Schulz’s studio was in the rink’s building. Then Joyce Schulz built a studio across from the ball field, because he needed a quiet place to think. But he would still come every day for lunch and breakfast. He was passionate about this rink. This was where he played hockey, where his children and family skated. This is where people got to talk with him, and get a scribble of a cartoon. It is where the world could come and get a glimpse of him.
“This is where his friends came to hang out,” Craig said. “When a cartoonist would visit him, they would have lunch at the Warm Puppy Café and discuss their craft.”
The idea for another creation began when Schulz went to play with his hockey team in the National Senior Olympics. He loved it so much, he decided to bring it back to Santa Rosa.
In 1975 there were skating clubs for adults on Friday at the rink. The glass cases in the foyer were already beginning to be crammed with awards. Hockey teams practiced weekly on 15,000 square feet of smooth ice. There were games and tournaments. There were lessons.
But Schulz wanted to bring Senior Olympics home. In 1975, Schulz created Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament. For 43 years, dozens of hockey teams with players age 40 or older from across North America and Canada have traveled to Santa Rosa for the week-long celebration of games and demonstrations of skill.
Mayor of Santa Rosa, Joyce Schulz, Julie McKinsey, Robin Riley, and Charles Schulz (L to R) at Redwood Empire Ice Arena plaque dedication in Santa Rosa, Ca. Photo courtesy of Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, Santa Rosa, Ca and Skippy Baxter, photographer.
When he was 70, Schulz was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in his home state of Minnesota, as a way to recognize his contributions.
Recently, I was able to talk to another famous hockey player, Mark Sertich, who is currently still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Oldest Hockey Player in the World. He played in tournaments till he was 96 years old. He is 97 now. He played hockey at the rink for nearly 35 years.
His best memory of Charles Schulz is about the times he saw him at the hockey rink and during the outdoor banquet dancing with his wife Jean Schulz. “If I had a chance to tell Sparky something now,” Sertich said, “I’d say, ‘I still miss playing with you’.” His favorite Peanuts character is Spike, a relative of Snoopy’s who lives out in the desert. Interestingly, Spike was the name of Schulz’s favorite childhood black and white dog. In fact, Snoopy was created after Spike, who was an exceptional pup, able to eat crazy things like thumb tacks, and who also understood an impressive amount of English commands.
“My best memory of playing hockey with Sparky,” Sertich said, “was when we were playing a game in the tournament and he got both goals in the game which we won 2-0. I was lucky to get an assist on one of them.” At Snoopy’s Tournament, players got to know hockey players from all over the world. Schulz played in the July tournament in 1999, just before he passed away on February 12, 2000. Today, the glass cases in the foyer are still crammed with trophies, from hockey teams winning CAHA State Championships, Red Baron World Masters Hockey Championships, and World Masters Hockey.
“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use.” – Snoopy
As if somehow, the tournaments, hockey games, public skating, skating lessons, and figure skating lessons weren’t enough, the Schulz legacy didn’t stop there. In 1980, he began putting on professional Christmas ice shows, complete with Olympic champions, award-winning choreography, acrobats, costumes and floats. “The sets were unbelievable,” commented General Manager Gina Huntsinger.
The opening ceremony in 1969 starred Olympic skater Peggy Fleming. The Christmas shows didn’t begin again until nearly a decade later, in 1979, when they starred Olympic and World Champion Fleming again. In the years to come, more Olympic and World Champions would skate at the arena, such as Robin Cousins, Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill.
Friends Hannah Richardson Williams, Hana Freedenburg and Emma Grace enjoy an afternoon of skating.
The shows delighted the audiences. Quickly, the shows became a Christmas holiday tradition for those in the North Bay. They continued from 1979 to 2003. “People would wait in lines overnight to be first to get tickets.” Legendary entertainers such as Bob Newhart and Liberace performed from the ice. In the 1990s, Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk performed at the arena as part of an extreme sports show.
Longtime resident of Calistoga, Fran Carlin, remembers fondly her family’s experiences at the ice rink. Her husband skated at the rink. He was from Minnesota, like Schulz. He grew up playing hockey too. Her granddaughters skated as part of the Snoopy’s Christmas shows. Carlin’s favorite Peanuts characters are Charlie Brown and Snoopy. “They were normal,” 82-year-old Carlin said, “like normal smart-alecky kids.”
“On weekends, we didn’t have money to take the kids out,” Carlin said, “so we’d go there, and sit and have coffee and hot chocolate and watch them skate. Then the hockey teams came to play, and we could watch them for free. It was fun.”
During the 50th year celebration panel discussion at the Schulz Museum in April, Karen Kresge will be sharing her stories. Kresge choreographed 25 of the Snoopy’s Home Ice Christmas shows.
Daughter Jill continues to be involved in extreme sport productions, and produces shows for Woodstock Ice Productions at Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. She and those that skate at the rink, and those who continue to read the 1,400 published books of Peanuts, ensure that the tradition of Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang will go on.
“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Lucy
“Here’s the world famous hockey player on his way to the arena.” -Snoopy
But maybe, for those in the North Bay, happiness is Snoopy’s Home Ice. When you visit the rink, you may dance the Hokey Pokey. You might feel a bit silly, as young girls sail past you like a car past a bike, moving at least twice as fast as you. You will probably smile the whole time. You will make memories for a lifetime.
For the schedule of public skating, figure skating and hockey game times, or to schedule your next party or school event, visit www.snoopyshomeice.com or call (707) 546-7147. To view the times and events of the 50th Anniversary celebration, visit the website, and click on 50th Anniversary tab. Snoopy’s Home Ice is located at 1667 W. Steele Lane in Santa Rosa. Across the way is the gallery, gift shop and museum. For fun facts, videos and more about the arena’s history, as well as postings of current events, visit their Facebook page, Snoopy’s Home Ice.
For those of us who have lived in Sonoma County and the North Bay, Snoopy’s Home Ice holds many of life’s most precious memories. It is part of our regional history.
Recently, I revisited the ice arena with friends and their children. We ate at the Warm Puppy Café, savoring the warmth of chili and French Fries. The food liner under the French Fries was a printing of Peanuts comics—we read those too. Skyler, the son of one of my friends, proudly showed me how well he can read by reading some comics aloud, and then by reading the quotes from Peanuts painted on the café walls. This reminded me of what my husband told me about his connection to the comic strip and reading.
“I remember reading Peanuts since I could read, and I probably never would have learned to read,” my husband said, “if not for reading comics. That was the only thing that interested me.”
Our meals finished and bellies warm, the kids couldn’t wait to go out on the ice. Watching them, I couldn’t help but remember the times I visited with my son, when he was young. We saw a fire-on-ice show. We came to learn to skate; I was amazed when he taught himself to do a turn on the ice.
Now my little boy is an adult, but when I go back to the rink, I still picture him there, skating down the ice with a determined look in his eye. You’ve probably watched your little one learn to skate by pushing a tower of stacked buckets or hanging onto a chair in the Parent and Puppy Practice. You’ve probably tried to dance on ice to the Hokey Pokey, a song played daily at the ice arena for so long that now it has become tradition. Many of you remember the Christmas shows, in all their glory, pizzazz and magic. At the rink, we’ve skated with little ones, celebrated birthday parties, and shared cups of hot cocoa with friends. Some of us have even played in tournaments, remember Charles Schulz and have witnessed his legacy continue over the years.