Age was no barrier for Fernie Ollinger.
Ollinger passed away in 2006 at the age of 93. But, even in the last few years of his life, he was active in several sports in Prince George. For his decades of involvement in baseball and hockey, he is being inducted into the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame as a pioneer.
Ollinger was born on Sept. 4, 1912, in Markinch, Sask., and settled in Prince George in 1949. He wasted little time making his presence felt in the city. He quickly became a driving force behind a variety of sports movements.
Through tireless effort in securing material donations, sponsorship dollars and volunteers, Ollinger was a major influence in establishing Prince George’s first PONY Baseball League in 1955. PONY baseball (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) was formed for boys who had passed the Little League age limit of 12. The league needed a home field, so Ollinger approached many businesses for material donations and sponsorship dollars. Don Paschal, from Paschal Bros. Grocery, along with Chuck Cawdell and Hermie Schloutz, organized a work party of parents, players, local merchants and city employees. Ollinger also asked the local prison warden if prisoners could help with labour. The warden agreed, as long as Ollinger could get tobacco and rolling papers donated from Kelly Douglas, which he did. Ollinger also received paint from Northern Hardware, doughnuts from Rose’s Ice Cream Shop and Coca-Cola from the Fawcetts. Soon, prisoners and Mayor Gordon Bryant were working side-by-side, putting in fence posts for the new baseball field.
As part of a fundraising campaign, Ollinger arranged to have PONY league players stand outside hotels, rooming houses and gambling houses. Players raised $800 in one day, enough money to buy fencing for the field and uniforms for each of the four teams. The field, through a combined effort, was completed in three days. Unfortunately, the first season of the PONY league, in the spring of 1955, was played indoors at the Old Arena due to consistent, heavy rain.
Ollinger’s passion for baseball also led him outside of Prince George. He helped start the youth baseball league in Burns Lake.
Throughout the 1950s, Ollinger also served as president of Prince George Senior Men’s Baseball and the Prince George Hockey Association. He coached or formed many hockey teams in the city. During that decade, he was also involved in other major sports projects in Prince George, including the first open-air hockey rink. It had lights and players’ benches and was located on Central Street. As well, Ollinger helped establish the first indoor curling rink in Prince George. The rink, close to Connaught Hill, relied on two airplane motors to circulate its air. A full week was needed to put in four sheets of ice. Ollinger also helped build the city’s first swimming pool, on Watrous Street.
While Ollinger may have made his biggest impact on the community in the 1950s, he stayed active into his senior years. On his homestead at Mud River, he built a six-hole golf course, known as the Sunshine Valley Golf Course. Ollinger, in his 80s at the time, got Prince George youth to help out with the project. He had them picking rocks, pulling weeds and seeding fairways.
Ollinger didn’t just foster sporting environments for others. He also enjoyed participating in sports. One of his favourite pastimes was curling, and he was good at it. Ollinger was part of the Tom Carmichael rink that won the Kelly Cup men’s bonspiel in 1990. At the age of 78, Ollinger became the oldest winner of the Kelly.