Out of Shadows and Into Light, a Mother Marks a Big Moment

By C.K. WOLFSON

She walks through the chilly arena, pointing out details of the rink, the pro shop, first aid room, coaches' rooms and the trophy case, pausing in front of the framed displays, the board posting the week's schedule: open skating, instruction, Mites, Squirts, Bantams, captain's practice, figure skating, boys' and girls' hockey, adult league.

"This is where my heart is," she says firmly.

The Vineyard ice skating rink is the result of a grass roots movement that started in the 1970s and grew with family-style momentum into one of the Island's most prominent recreation facilities. Gayle and Bob Mone were founding participants in the 1980s when the Martha's Vineyard Arena was still a Currier and Ives print, an outdoor sheet of ice on 3.2 acres of land donated by the high school; a place where a few men formed a hockey team, families bonded, and toddlers like Jonathan and Ryan Mone, who went on to become varsity hockey players, both wearing number 23, wobbled and giggled and learned to glide.

"Those little kids would freeze their buns off," Dick Barbini, the first president of youth hockey, says, laughing as he recalls the times when stormy gusts would send snow blowing over the three-foot walls which surrounded the rink, onto the backs of the skaters' necks.

Dukes County sheriff, Michael McCormack, the president of MVA, says, "We refer to hockey parents as The Family. It's a tremendous sport as far as bonding goes, not only with the kids who play, but with the parents who get involved."

After it happened - the unthinkable - a friend, summoning a tender commiseration, told Gayle Mone she was like a beautiful Ming vase that had been smashed, and that one by one the people who loved her, members of the Island community, would each bring back a piece so she could be mended. The cracks would always be there, the friend said, it would never be quite the same, but the vase would eventually be made whole.

Seventeen-year-old Ryan Mone, a smiling, golden child in a seemingly charmed family, died in a car crash on New Year's morning in 1998.

Light and shadow take turns moving across Mrs. Mone's Dresden face. "I'm stronger in the places where I was broken," she says.

And without flinching, his mother recounts the six-year-long passage that began in grief, and this month, in bittersweet celebration, reached what she acknowledges is a point of closure: the MVA dedicated its six new locker rooms, a 4,400-square-foot addition, over $800,000 project headed by Mrs. Mone and named in memory of her son, Ryan. The new arena will have an open house Friday, Dec. 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.

"For a long, long time it was whatever I could do to honor him, and to continue with life. Your body clenches around hurt" - she explains that she read that - "and if you can jump into it, like almost hurt yourself again by going out in public, then it dissipates. And that is what we did - just put ourselves out there. My husband, more than me, gets his strength from being around people. I had to become more outgoing - to make make more of an effort."

As donations in memory of Ryan started coming in, $50,000 at first count, the board of directors decided to create a fund to replace the substandard, makeshift, plywood locker rooms. A committee was formed, and in the spring of 2001, Mrs. Mone took over the helm.

In an emphatic gesture of support for the Mones as well as the arena, Islanders came forward. In 1999, Alex Finkelstein, a classmate of Jonathan Mone's, who remembers having to suit up in the lobby and locker rooms with no plumbing, helped organize the first annual, fund-raising, Ryan Mone Alumni Game. S. Robert and Tara Levine contributed $350,000 to the fundraiser, later pledging over $100,000 more.

Through Mr. Mones' long, family friendship with filmmakers Peter and Bob Farrelly (their film There's Something About Mary is dedicated to Ryan), various celebrities became involved and contributed items for auction at what became the annual Ice Savours fundraiser.

"We both believe in this and are obviously committed to it," Mr. Mone says. "The point is, the real effort, physically and mentally, was mostly made by Gayle with my support. I can't give her enough credit. She always could do anything."

Sheriff McCormack, whose son Steven was Ryan's classmate and hockey mate, describes Mrs. Mone's effort as "like walking into an energy field. She gets you into the spirit of what we're trying to do, and everybody just gives 110 per cent as she and Bob have done. It's like giving to your own. The Mones are part of the hockey family."

Mrs. Mone's clear voice has a slightly musical quality to it as she describes a son who always smiled, "even under his [hockey] mask." But for all the even pacing and direct gaze, something flutters just under her smooth surface.

"When Ryan died, we could have blamed things. We could have blamed places. We could have blamed people - ourselves certainly, you always want to do that, too. But we were just so grateful to have had Ryan for 17 years, to live in this most beautiful place, to have the most wonderful friends, a wonderful community that our children could grow up in and get to the top of anything they wanted to do."

Mrs. Mone was working as assistant to principal Ed Jerome at the Edgartown School. "I went back to school a week after Ryan died, because the thought that I might not want to get up and out there made me just jump into it. It was so important to me that, after we lost Ryan, I didn't want Jonathan to lose anything more. I didn't want him to lose us. We were vital people who had whole lives."

Bob Mone of Mone, Lawrence & Carlin Insurance Agency, Inc., is one of eight children, the son of the late William Mone, a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge, who'd spent summers on the Vineyard. He met Mrs. Mone, a college student from North Carolina, in 1972 in an Oak Bluffs bar on her first day of work as a waitress. "Love at first sight." She smiles a fragile smile. They married six months after the summer's end and moved to the Vineyard.

Mr. Mone worked as a fish broker. Mrs. Mone worked for a bank, then for their friend, the late attorney Ed Coogan, the Edgartown School and, for the past two years, as assistant to author David McCullough, who attests, "I can tell you that she likes things done right."

The arena family completed their circle. Islanders donated their time and skills to the locker room project: Dick Barbini donated the engineering designs, Dale McClure donated his machinery and labor, past president and board member, architect Sam Sherman did the architectural design, former board president Brion McGroarty helped with the planning. Mr. Mone notes, "You go back in time and it's the Hinckleys and Cottles, Jimmy Gibson and the White Brothers - plumbers and electricians who donated their time and equipment."

Mr. Sherman describes it as, "a community within a community." and arena manager Kurt Mundt adds, "Everybody in the community should feel good about the rink, because they have ownership in it."

And there it is: six locker rooms with showers, bathrooms, benches, a mounted television, music system, cubbies, storage space for uniforms and helmets.

Mrs. Mone adds, "It's not just the facility, it's not the material things, it's what's inside it. So even though when there was nothing in there, the boys were what's important. I mean they gathered together cold and wet and smelly and it was the camaraderie and they were fine with that."

"It's been said that when you have such a loss you can't keep in the same direction," Mrs. Mone says. "You need to do something different. Because things are not the same and they'll never be the same."

She refers to her son, Jonathan, who was admitted to law school, but, with the Farrellys' encouragement, took another direction and is working in Los Angeles as an associate producer. His movie, Miracle, about the 1980 Olympic hockey team, is scheduled for release in February.

And as for herself, she says, "Actually, what ended up happening, I think it was harder to stay really close to some of our closest friends, because it had changed."

Mrs. Mone pauses to look at a display of hockey sticks from the high school's varsity teams mounted on the arena wall just off the lobby. Each stick has been signed by all the members of the team. Standing still, she peers closer at the team signatures from the 1995-1996 season. The name Ryan Mone is among the felt tip autographs. "I didn't even know that was there," she says softly. "I didn't know that was there."

Number 23 is permanently retired.

This is a hard time of year for the Mones. Mrs. Mone admits that. "But you have to keep their spirit with you," she says, "and Ryan is such a good spirit. We wanted to keep him in people's minds. We need to keep him present. And he is present."

She sits at one of the metal tables in the lobby. "Having this rink, you can actually see something being accomplished from this, and then you can see the kids and the adults and the people enjoying it. That is a sense of closure. And it's good because then it frees me to be able to move on."