Early this morning, the city of Saginaw lost a true icon and pioneer for Hockey in the Great Lakes Bay region. Former Mayor, Paul H. Wendler passed away at 96 years of age. Wendler, who was Mayor of the city of Saginaw from 1971-through-1973, was very instrumental in developing the Saginaw Civic Center Complex. The Saginaw Civic Center (now known as the Dow Event Center) became a multi-facility complex which housed The Heritage Theatre; for plays and concerts; a Grand Ballroom for weddings, graduations, and other events; and of course “Wendler Arena,” which was home to the Saginaw Gears Hockey Club, and is now the home of the Saginaw Spirit Hockey Club.
Wendler and Canadian businessman, Wren Blair were two of the ground breaking pioneers who brought Hockey to Saginaw, Michigan. The Saginaw Gears played at “Wendler Arena” throughout the seventies and into the eighties; winning two Turner Cup championship’s along the way. In the mid-eighties and into the late eighties, The Saginaw Generals, and the Saginaw Hawks called “Wendler Arena” home. Throughout the nineteen-nineties, many semi-pro hockey teams made “Wendler Arena” home. The Saginaw Wheels, The Saginaw Lumber Kings, and a second Saginaw Gears hockey club occupied the famous arena throughout the decade.
In the late nineteen-nineties, Wendler and Blair teamed up again; this time with local businessman, Richard Garber. The three men are the sole reason the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League are in existence, and still call “Wendler Arena” home to this day. I am very happy and proud to say i knew Mr. Wendler, having many great conversations with he and his Grandson, Scott while covering Saginaw Spirit Hockey games over the years. I have many fond memories of sitting in the media room prior to games, having conversations with Mr. Wendler and Spirit President, Craig Goslin. Goslin reflected on the loss of Mr. Wendler on the Saginaw Spirit website www.saginawspirit.com earlier today. “On behalf of Dick Garber and the entire Saginaw Spirit family of staff, players, coaches, sponsors, season ticket holders and fans, we offer our deepest sympathy to Phoebe Wendler and the entire Paul Wendler family. Mr. Wendler was highly respected by all of us who knew him, not only for helping bring hockey back to Saginaw, but because he was a great person. That respect is reflected in the fact that our arena is named after him as the Spirit home games are played in Wendler Arena at the Dow Event Center. It was his vision and passion to have a first class hockey arena in Saginaw for the entire region to enjoy. We will be forever grateful to him for his professionalism, passionate persistence and continued support of the Dow Event Center and of the Saginaw Spirit. Saginaw has lost someone very special.”
As the Spirit Hockey team prepares for their eighth consecutive OHL post season, I hope we can all take a moment and pay tribute to the man who brought Hockey to our great city, making Saginaw a true “Hockey Town.” Visitation will be at Case Funeral Home, Mackinaw Rd. in Saginaw on Friday March, 15 2013. Mr. Wendler’s funeral will be held on Saturday March, 16 at Faith Lutheran Church. Times for visitation and funeral services will be announced on the Saginaw Spirit website www.saginawspirit.com.