‘I have a pretty big heart’
Consider Al Martin a young kid at heart. At 67 years old, Martin aims to warm the hearts of children through the coldest months of the year.
For 36 years, Martin has operated the Warsinski Chalet, a large warming house complete with cross country ski and skate rentals and food concessions. It is located in Morehouse Park at the west end of School Street in Owatonna.
Martin spends any where from 50-60 hours each week during the winter months at the chalet, which he leases from the city. He has a wide assortment of skis and skates for children and adults to enjoy the nearby ice rinks.
“I feel if I’m not here it won’t be here for people to enjoy,” Martin says. He said the outdoor activity is something that’s much “needed in the community.”
He doesn’t mind the long hours one bit. “I’m either going to sit on the couch at home or sit down here,” Martin said. “I have a TV here,” he said pointing to a nearby screen.
For Martin, running the chalet brings back memories of when he skated at the local rink in his hometown of Plainview. The enjoyment he gets after all these years is being with the kids. “I try to get kids to enjoy the outdoors in Minnesota,” he said. His favorite aspect is “meeting different people and seeing kids outside enjoying Mother Nature.”
He relishes the fun experiences that kids have while skating. “One kid was so excited about how well he skated and told me that he thinks he’s as good as a hockey player,” Martin said with a smile.
While the weekdays are typically pretty slow, the weekends can be a far different story. Martin said it’s not uncommon to have hundreds of people at Morehouse skating. “It gets a little hairy, but we usually handle it,” he said.
Even with large crowds, there has never been an issue with not having enough skates, Martin said. Skate rental is $7 for two hours.
Martin finds that his greatest business comes from the 12 to 14 year olds. “They come by themselves and once they get a license, they won’t be around for a while, but then they have kids and they’re back,” he said.
He finds many parents drop off their kids. “I’m a pretty cheap babysitter,” Martin said. He noted that birthday parties can be held at a chalet. School groups also make trips to the skating rink.
Martin enjoys hearing adults tell him how they enjoyed coming to the chalet when they were kids.
The popularity of ice skating, Martin said, has dwindled in recent years. “Years ago we had nothing else to do than skate,” he said. He added it’s so much different now with kids being involved in a wide variety of activities.
Families enjoy skating on Straight River, which is adjacent to the chalet. “It’s a pretty unique place,” Martin said. “The city maintains the ice and does a great job,” he added.
In order for people to get the greatest enjoyment out of skating, Martin cautions them to make sure the skates fit properly. “If it’s too big, they will not enjoy the sport,” he says.
Martin is no stranger when it comes to trying to make kids happy. For more than 30 years, he has delighted children in the Owatonna area by taking on the role of Santa Claus prior to and during the holidays. He is a natural for the role as he has a natural bushy white beard.
He hopes his grandchildren will take over the chalet some day.
As for facilitating the skating excursions for all ages, he says it’s simple as to what keeps him coming back year after year.
“To see the joy in people, not just kids,” Martin said.
But he’s quick to add he does it for the kids. “I have a pretty big heart,” he said.