For 13 years, a BYU-Idaho teacher has invited students to his backyard, but this is no ordinary backyard.
When Robert Wahlquist grew tired of driving his daughters to Idaho Falls each winter to ice skate, he decided to create a rink much closer to home — their own backyard.
The motivation for the rink began with creating an opportunity for his children, but now it attracts students to the home four times a week during winter months.
Word of the ice rink spread and now college students skate every week.
Wahlquist had no idea what he was getting into when he started this backyard project. The family built a little rink the first year which has grown to 40 feet wide by 50 feet long. The rink must be rebuilt each year and is an extensive process.
First, he plants concrete stakes in the ground and screws boards to them so they stand on their own. He reuses the materials he can, such as the lumber. Since he isn’t able to buy plastic as wide as he needs, he buys a 20-foot-by-100-foot roll of plastic and cuts it in half. A line of tar and staples every two inches hold the plastic together. Finally, the water is poured and freezes over.
The process takes several hours, but the key is that it does not leak.
However, things have not always gone smoothly.
One year it was not done correctly, and the foundation made it impossible to skate. He took a sledgehammer, broke it to pieces and started again.
Students sign a liability waiver, yet no one has had any major injuries in the 13 years the rink has been open.
The rink is available during the winter season, between December and March, depending on the weather.
The Wahlquist family used the rink to participate in the Light the World Campaign.
“We were lighting the world before they were lighting the world,” Wahlquist said. “The Savior said 2,000 years ago, ‘Let your light so shine.’ So, the Light the World is a little slow on the uptake.”
Walquist has received support to make all this possible. He knows a farmer who raises potatoes for Five Guys and donates the extra potatoes at the end of the row that are tricky to get with a tractor. The family gathers about 1,500 pounds of potatoes and stores them in their cold room.
The family makes french fries out of the potatoes for students out on the ice. They have used 1,100 pounds of potatoes so far and have 400 pounds left to use.
“Nobody leaves hungry so that’s always good feedback,” Wahlquist said. The best part is, the fries are free.
You cannot have french fries without ketchup, so it makes sense that they used 15 gallons of ketchup this season and 2 gallons of mayonnaise for their homemade fry sauce. They have three deep fryers in the garage to assist with the mass amount of cooking and have used 15 gallons of cooking oil in the process.
“I used to do it (cooking) in the house but Michelle (his wife) was tired of smelling like a burger joint and so I cook in the garage now, that way we don’t have to smell french fries for days at a time,” Wahlquist said.
Nate Larsen, a sophomore studying nursing, was transcribing in Wahlquist’s religion class when he mentioned the ice rink and decided to attend.
“Obviously at BYU-Idaho they are really targeting bringing people together and I think this is really neat that a teacher would go out of his way to put something like this together and he has an open invite to his students so, pretty neat thing,” Larsen said.
Laurel Ezell, a senior studying nursing, was a first-timer to the rink.
“My friends really wanted me to go out on the rink with them and so I tried and it was super fun; I slipped a couple times but I didn’t fall, that’s what I wanted,” Ezell said.
Wahlquist enjoys having students in his home. He is hopeful it has a positive effect on his children and on the students being in a family setting.
“We love having students in the home,” Wahlquist said. “We love being around them and the energy they bring and the love of the Lord they bring so it’s a blessing for us and hopefully a blessing for them.”
So if you want to skate, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a time slot on his open days of Monday, Tuesday, Friday or Saturdays.