Altona’s Field of Dreams Committee organized a special night on Friday for a very special addition to Access Field. The Altona Baseball Walk of Fame held its inaugural induction ceremony before the Junior Bisons game against the Interlake Blue Jays.
The evening focused on recognizing and celebrating some of the pioneers of baseball in the community.
A total of eight individuals were selected for the inaugural ceremony, which saw the recipients, or families of those who have passed away, presented with a plaque. The plaques were affixed to posts in front of trees planted down the right-field fence.
Those recognized were Menno H Friesen (posthumously), Wilbur Funk (posthumously), Johnny Kehler (posthumously), Gerry Rempel (posthumously), Bill Driedger, Mel Klassen, Ken Penner and Pete Schroeder.
Spokesperson, Ken Wiebe, explained the idea came up during coffee one day.
"We started with Wilbur Funk. When he passed, we started the conversation," he explained. "Then the conversation quickly went to, 'what about Menno Friesen?' Then it went further with Johnny Kehler or Gerry Rempel."
You can find a brief history of the contribution each made below (as provided by Ken Wiebe).
Menno H Friesen:
Menno is the first individual we want to recognize. It was part of Menno’s dream that Access Field would be built. When he found out that a 6-acre plot might be available from a developer in order to fulfill a Town requirement for “green space”, he contacted Ken Wiebe and together they went to a Town Council meeting to convince a majority of councilors that a baseball diamond could be considered “green space”.
Once we had that approval, Menno coordinated with Friesens to make available a landscape architect for a braining storming session of local baseball people and the formation of our Field of Dreams Committee. The drawings that came from that session formed the basis for what is now Access Field.
To say Menno was ‘hands on’ would be an understatement. Menno was involved in everything from planning to digging to seeding to harrowing to doing anything and everything he felt needed doing. He was also our leader in twisting arms to raise funds or to get “gifts in kind”.
Menno was not only a dreamer, but also a doer.
After Wilbur lost his right hand in an industrial accident, he was no longer able to play baseball, but he loved the game, and became an umpire for Altona Baseball and the whole South Central Region. I’m not sure how many games he officiated, but I know he told the story that at age 73, he umpired 73 games that summer.
One of our favorite stories about Wilbur involved some fans questioning Wilbur’s call on a pitch. Wilbur’s reply was …. I never said it was over the plate, I called it a STRIKE !
Diamond #1 in the Altona Centennial Park used to be know as “Johnny’s Diamond” … He and a bunch of volunteers built the diamond the Northwest corner of the park. His son Conley relates a story where he and Lyndon Lefty Friesen were sitting on the back of a harrow pulled by a tractor Johnny was driving around the field while Conley and Lefty were scattering grass seed for the diamond.
Johnny was also instrumental in organizing and coaching the first 15U and 18U teams in Altona, as well as the Altona Senior Bisons.
Gerry organized and coached Altona’s first Little League Teams. He built a diamond, just south of the swimming pool in the Altona Park. He sold advertising on the outfield fence to finance the team and had deal with Pepsi for a free case of Pepsi for home run hit in the park.
Gerry was also instrumental in the forming the ManDak Little league featuring teams from Altona, Plum Coulee, Winkler, and Morden, in the North Division and Gretna, Neche, Bathgate, Cavalier and St Thomas in the South.
Altona Minor Baseball - Bill Driedger, Mel Klassen, Ken Penner and Pete Schroeder:
In 1981, Bill Driedger, Mel Klassen, Ken Penner and Pete Schroeder got together to form a committee which became known as Altona Minor Baseball. Their sons had been cut from the only Little League team in the community and they made a commitment that any youngster who wanted to play baseball should be able to do so. This credo has served Altona Minor Baseball over the past 42 years and given many the opportunity to learn the game of baseball. Also, Altona Minor Baseball has won more than their share of provincial championships (26 in past 40 years).
"They're no longer involved but the legacy keeps going because young parents are getting involved in trying to teach their children this great game," added Wiebe.