He retired on May 31 after 36 years of working for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, but Hans Pauls wasn’t able to get to his cottage on Moon River in Bala, Ont. until just last week.
“It’s been busy,” he laughs, “but we’re finally here for just a few days, and we’ll be coming back with the whole family the first week of August.”
That family includes his wife Christine, son Ryan and his partner Rachel, and daughter Kaitlyn, her husband Luke and their son, Carson. They’ll be taking advantage of the great fishing (pickerel, pike and bass) and doing a bit of water skiing as well.
He may be smiling on the dock this week, but many locals will fondly recall seeing Pauls’ smiling face at the arena, where he performed just about every task that needed to be done over almost three decades.
“Those years were some of the highlights of my career,” he reflects. “We maintained one of the best arena facilities in the whole Niagara region, when it came to the ice and the cleanliness of our building. We really took pride in our facilities.”
He tells The Local of the many positive comments about the arenas the town would get from out-of-town visitors who came for hockey tournaments.
It seemed that everyone who walked into the arenas knew who Hans Pauls was, and he was one to make sure he put forth an effort to get to know those visitors right back.
“I’ve seen so many kids grow up over the years,” he says. “Even long after I left the arenas for the facilities supervisor job, they would recognize me from my days driving the Zamboni, or sharpening skates.”
Pauls moved to NOTL with his parents and siblings in the 1970s. The graduate of Niagara District Secondary School has fond memories of playing minor ball and soccer on the same NOTL fields for which he eventually became responsible.
He began his career with the town’s parks and recreation department in 1986. His tenure was such that he experienced the opening of the Niagara pool and the community centre in 2000, as well as the construction of the Meridian Credit Union Arena which opened in 2003.
Over a decade ago Pauls replaced Ken Rive as facilities supervisor. Since then, he has overseen the construction of the Virgil splash pad and skatepark as well as the renovation of the community centre to house an expanded Niagara Nursery School.
Pauls credits the community as a whole for making all of those improvements possible.
“The fundraising that was done for the new arena,” says Pauls, clearly in awe, “our community really, really came together. Same as for the new pool in 2000, fundraising was exceptional for that, too. That’s why I really enjoyed working for the town, the community support for projects like those.”
He continues, “the VBA (Virgil Business Association) has been huge in our community, with the amount of money they’ve raised over the years for our facilities and our community in general. Looking back, I can really recognize how much the community has given back.”
As facilities supervisor, Pauls looked after 33 buildings, including the fire halls and the Court House, as well as the soccer fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and the new pickleball courts.
Pauls gives a ton of credit to the staff who worked alongside him to keep things in tip-top shape. He mentions how much he learned working under Rive, and says his team of seven was crucial in the maintenance of the facilities.
“As management, you’re only as good as the people who work under you,” he stresses. “And I think (manager of parks and recreation) Kevin Turcotte, (parks supervisor) J.B. Hopkins and (recreation supervisor) Dan Maksenuk are all great individuals, and are doing a great job.”
He remembers his early days working the Virgil Stampede.
“In the 80s and 90s, the stampede always had horses,” he laughs. “I remember they used to use the whole field. There were so many horses. At the end of the weekend the whole field was full of horse manure. You wouldn’t believe how long it took us to clean that all up, with pitchforks, throwing it all into the back of a truck.”
And he fondly recalls the old ice resurfacer at the arena, long before the town purchased its first modern Zamboni.
“It used to throw the snow up, and you could actually catch it as you were operating it,” he says. “I used to form it into snowballs and throw them at the fans. Back then you could do that. You couldn’t do it today.”
When asked what he won’t miss about his job, the 59-year-old mentions the calls in the middle of the night when an alarm would go off.
“I was in charge of the monitoring of all of our buildings for security,” explains Pauls. “My wife really doesn’t miss that at all, those calls at 2 or 3 in the morning. I would go out there in the middle of the night only to find out a bird or something activated the alarm.”
Some old habits die hard, though.
“We moved from Virgil to St. Davids three years ago,” laughs Pauls. “A week after retiring, I was driving into Virgil and I found myself automatically pulling into the arena. For 36 years going into that same driveway, it was just a natural thing to do. I said to myself, ‘what am I doing? I don’t need to come this way today’.”
Ever the NOTL booster, Pauls joined the Kinsmen Club post-retirement and is looking forward to getting involved on the other side of the community support equation.
He adds that retirement so far is bittersweet, but in a good way.
“I really, really enjoyed working for the town. If it wasn’t for the community, it wouldn’t have been the job that it was. I got to meet so many different people.”