In a room packed with people you could feel the energy. It was all positive. There was a buzz a person could feel as more than 200 men and women filled The Hideout in Red Deer to pay tribute to a pair of city icons.
Cec and Gary Swanson were the focal point of what amounted to being a wake for these two men who managed to touch so many lives during their time in this city.
“This is incredible. Absolutely incredible,” said Cec’s daughter, Deb King about the tribute Tuesday night.
Sixty-eight-year-old Gary died on June 9th and his 93-year-old father passed the same day as he was headed to hospital to see his son for the last time.
Cec was the manager and coach of the Red Deer Rustlers in the early 70’s and of course was a fixture at the Red Deer Arena and the Kin City A rink with his skate sharpening business. Former players took the stage to relate stories about Cec. He was a bottomless source of anecdotes which his daughter quickly acknowledged.
“Oh my god there must be a thousand of them,” she said. “I think that I’m going to write a book. I was trying to write the eulogy and, where do you start? Especially with the two of them. I think I will actually sit down and maybe put my thoughts together one day.”
One of those thousands of stories came from Brian Sutter who came to Red Deer at the age of 15 to play for the Rustlers. A letter from the team arrived one day at their home in Viking, Alberta, addressed to Gary and Brian Shooter, asking them to come for a tryout. Gary stayed home but Brian’s dad drove him down to Red Deer as he had to go back to the family farm to continue harvest.
“School was about to start, and I knew I was going to miss school. This was another world for us to come here,” said Sutter. “I never travelled 30 miles from home. That was a long ways away.”
After being dropped off at the rink Sutter had two days of practice time before Cec cut him. He said he was scared as his dad said don’t call as they would be in the fields harvesting so he stayed in the rink that night until it closed. He then found a phone booth behind the rink to sleep in.
The next morning, he saw the woman who ran the concession and she let him in the rink. Sutter took his suitcase and equipment bag and sat in the rink when Cec Swanson walked in, asked him what he was doing there, and Sutter explained his dilemma. Swanson then gave him three one-dollar bills to get something to eat and told him the next ice time was at 8:30.
“I walked into the dressing room and nobody was there for about two hours and Cec walked in and I was just sitting there,” he said. “I was just happy to be there, and I had a place to stay.”
Another story involved John Chapman who coached against Cec. The two exchanged punches during a wild game but many years later Cec who was a marriage commissioner, officiated at Chapman’s daughter’s wedding.
Al Sim, president of Red Deer Minor Hockey said Cec was an amazing man. He recalls a time when he and another conspirator removed Cec’s black and white tv from his skate sharpening room at KCA and replaced it with a more modern flat screen.
“Cec comes in and he’s just livid because he can’t get the t.v. to work and he ‘s pissed off because he doesn’t have his t.v.,” he said “I had to go in and program his t.v. and we put stickers on it and which buttons to push. It was awesome.”
Gary Swanson was a very good hockey player in his own right but his mark on this community was as Santa Claus at Parkland Mall.
“When you look around you think, that guy was born to be Santa,” said Deb.
Darcy Notland worked with Gary taking pictures of the kids on Santa’s knee for 15 years and he told the crowd Gary never missed a shift in the big chair. In his opinion Gary was Santa when he put that suit on the be with the kids. He took it further than being Santa in the mall. Gary spent many Christmas Eve’s at Ronald MacDonald House and the Red Deer Regional hospital.
Deb and her bother Gary got to watch their dad play hockey and she said he loved the game as well as the hockey parties which generally followed. She recalls one such night in a home they were building in Peace River and there was no carpet on the floor yet.
“I woke up that morning and there was a felt pen. Everybody had written something on the floor. Mom was so choked,” she said. “It was good reading. A lot of it was good reading.”
Tuesday night was a prime example of how many people these two men impacted in some way during their time in Red Deer and those stories will live on as will their legacy in this community.
Cheers Cec and Gary!