HANCOCK – Over the past nine months, the Copper Country hockey community has lost two legends. In July of 2021, Brian “Slim” McLean passed away. McLean who served as Houghton County Sherriff for more than two decades was also a long-time, youth-hockey coach, referee and beloved player in area leagues.
In January of this year, Dave Wiitanen, 87, of Hancock died. Wiitanen was instrumental in the growth of the Copper Country Junior Hockey Association. As well, he was president of the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association and was instrumental in the construction of the Houghton County Arena in Hancock among a myriad of other hockey-related projects.
While their presence in the community is sorely missed, a new fund established in their names will ensure that their contributions to youth hockey will not be soon forgotten. Earlier in March, during the Copper Country Old Timers Hockey Tournament, it was announced that a new endowment called the David Wiitanen and Slim McLean Memorial Youth Hockey Fund was created by the Keweenaw Community Foundation.
According to McLean’s daughter Katelyn, the fund is a merger of two sums of “Hockey money.”
“After my dad died, we set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $ 5,000,” she related. “Because of the generous nature of this community, we raised over $ 10,500. The question then became what do we do with all this money? We wanted to do my dad justice and have this money benefit the community for a long time and not just be a one-time deal. ”
McLean and those involved in the family’s fundraising efforts got in touch with Robin Meneguzzo, Executive Director of the Keweenaw Community Fund in Hancock. She knew exactly what to do with the money.
Meneguzzo explained that there was already a Copper Country Youth Hockey Fund which was created in 2008 by Wiitanen and friend Bob Mikesch.
“Bob had expressed an interest in passing on the torch to someone else to oversee this fund,” she said. “So, when Katelyn approached me, we were all able to sit down and combine forces and set up a larger fund with the McLean money.”
Meneguzzo and McLean said that the mission of the David Wiitanen and Slim McLean Memorial Youth Hockey Fund is to provide resources and additional opportunities for youth hockey players as well as removing barriers for boys and girls to be able to play the game.
They added that the fund is looking to grant around $ 3,500 to worthy applicants each fall.
The announcement of this new fund came midway through the Old Timers Tournament a few weeks ago and appropriately was held at the Dave Wiitanen Room on the second floor of the Houghton County Arena.
“The turnout was amazing,” said McLean. “My family and I weren’t sure what to expect, and so we were surprised by the amount of people who came out -people that I haven’t seen in years. There were lots of stories from people who knew my dad and his love of hockey. ”
Meneguzzo was on hand and said she is equally enthused in keeping these two hockey pillars’ legacies alive.
“I was excited to be able to bring these two groups together,” she said. “It was great to see Mr. Mikesch speak about the creation of the original fund with Dave and the hope he has for the future.”