Friends and family of John Peter Caouette gathered Saturday to dedicate a shelter at Twin Lakes built in his memory.
The structure, which will be heated by next winter, is now open for public use and is a tribute to the Minnesota native who loved skating and playing hockey, especially at Twin Lakes.
“John loved playing and he especially loved pick-up hockey games on frozen ponds,” Caouette’s widow Rebecca Braun said in a thank-you speech to the Juneau Community Foundation. “He loved the spontaneity of it, the mix of kids, old friends, beginners and strangers. He would bring extra milk crates and skate aids to Twin Lakes and help parents get their children’s skates on. He would tell us how in Minneapolis there are these great warming houses by popular skating spots, and Juneau really should have one.”
Caouette died in a running accident while on vacation in Minneapolis visiting his family in October 2010. There was a visual illusion, and he jumped over a barrier thinking there was ground on the other side, and he fell to his death.
“It was just such a shock and I knew that there was going to be so much emotion in our family, our community,” Braun said. “He was such a big person, he was such a giver that I really wanted right away to harness that energy toward something positive, so before I even knew what it was, I started a memorial fund (through the Juneau Community Foundation).”
The money donated to the memorial fund paid for the construction of the shelter, which cost approximately $40,000 to $45,000. One of the couple’s friends, Julie Nielsen, who became the unofficial project manager, approached Braun with the idea for the cabin shortly after his death.
The shelter was built entirely by volunteers, most of whom knew Caouette. There was about 50 volunteers in all.
“There was probably core group of about five to eight people,” said Steve Box, one of Caouette’s friends who helped with the construction. “What was really neat was that people that knew him would float in on the weekends, even if they didn’t have any construction background or building background. People would just come in and lend a hand and on weekends there was 20 people here at times.”
Construction began in October and was largely completed last week. All that remains to do is a little landscaping, spray finish on the walls, place skater-friendly rubber mats on the floor and install the user-pay heating system for next winter.
“It’s open, even though it’s not 100 percent finished,” Braun said.
On Saturday, Braun thanked everyone who made the shelter possible, including all those who donated money, brought food during the construction or lent materials and equipment. She especially thanked Jeff Morehouse, Rorie Watt and Nielsen. Caouette’s mother Mary Gorzycki also addressed the crowd.
Following a song by Corrine and Jamie Marks on guitar and the unveiling of a memorial plaque that will be hung up inside the cabin, the gatherers tossed tulips onto the half-frozen lake in remembrance.
Caouette’s longtime friends from Minneapolis who traveled to Juneau for the dedication ceremony said they thought the shelter was a fitting tribute.
“This is fantastic because John Caouette he loved skating, loved playing hockey and loved helping kids, and this is like a continuation of that,” said Mitch Richter, of Minneapolis.
“I just think the shelter is a great representation of the kind of guy he was,” added Mike Orr, who has known Caouette since childhood. “This was a spot where he loved to be on the ice right out here, and I just think he’d love this.”
Braun said in an interview that the process has been therapeutic for her, as well as her and John’s children, Rosie and Alder Caouette, 11 and 5 years old, respectively.
“It really means a lot to my children to have this tangible evidence of how much their dad meant to this community, and it’s just a very deep kind of grounding something that infuses them with a sense of pride and identity, I feel,” Braun said. “Even my little one who just turned 5, he’s like, ‘Oh, that’s the cabin for daddy.’ It makes him feel, I think, very proud. My daughter too. It’s been hard, she’s 11 now and doesn’t talk about it a lot, but I know that it’s important.”
In his dedication of the shelter, longtime family friend Sam Skaggs said people will able to come to the structure years from now and go on a journey, even if it’s only for an hour.
“For a first time skater, it will be a warm place to tie on your skates and gather your courage to give it a try, or a place to come back, take a rest, find shelter in cold weather,” Skaggs told the crowd. “For experienced skaters, it will be a place to suit up and joke with friends and connect with the joy of what is to come, or prepare for a friendly competition with your peers. For family, it will be a place to meet, have a snack, regroup, relax and a place maybe to meet new friends. In summer, it will be shelter from wind and rain. And if at times, you’re the only one here, may the walls speak to you in comfort.”
The John Caouette Memorial Shelter is still accepting monetary donations for the completion of the shelter, including the heating system. To contribute, please send a check to: Juneau Community Foundation, 350 N. Franklin St., Suite 2, Juneau AK 99801 and noted “Caouette fund” in the memo. Donations can also be made online at juneaucf.org and specify “Caouette fund” in the notes box. Contributions are tax deductible.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.