This is the time of year when John “Dex” Dexter would be laboring to make the perfect sheet of ice.
For nearly 40 years, Dexter was the manager and icemaker at the St. Paul Curling Club, and September is when the ice is made for the start of the season.
“He planned on going back this fall, but there were other plans for him,” said Dexter’s wife, Debbie Dexter.
As a tribute on the curling club’s Facebook page put it, “The great ice in the sky now is all the richer.”
Dexter died Sept. 13 of kidney cancer. He was 73.
Family and friends described Dexter as a tireless ambassador for the sport and the St. Paul Curling Club. He introduced hundreds of newbies to curling while also coaching elite players bound for the Olympics.
A large man with an outsized personality, Dexter was a dispenser of hugs, backslaps, funny anecdotes and critiques of your curling flaws.
“He was the face of the club. He was the big man with the big smile that everyone saw when they entered the curling club,” said friend Mark Arnold.
“He didn’t care if you were an elite curler or a new beginning curler,” Debbie Dexter said.
Club members said Dexter had a knack for remembering everyone’s name and also frequently gave nicknames. He even gave one to himself.
“Hi, I’m Sexy Dexy,” Dexter would sometimes say when introducing himself, according to Arnold.
“Like everybody else, I first wondered, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ followed by, ‘I really like him!’ ” Arnold said.
Dexter, who was also known as Jim, was born, raised and lived in St. Paul. He was a hockey player for the former Murray High School in St. Paul and was introduced to curling by his dad. He worked as a carpenter, but in 1979, he took a job as the manager of the St. Paul Curling Club.
The club, which has been on Selby Avenue since 1912, had been going through a low point, with membership in decline and the old building in need of repair.
Dexter helped turn things around, using his carpentry skills to guide reconstruction projects, according to John Ordway, who was part of Dexter’s Tuesday Night Work Crew of volunteer club members.
Now the club, with more than 1,000 members, is one of the biggest in the country.
A big part of Dexter’s job was making the eight sheets of ice at the club, a job as important and demanding as being the greenskeeper at a golf course.
“The ice makes the club,” said Debbie Dexter. “Icemaking is really a very difficult technique. Flooding at 5 o’clock in the morning. I could go on and on with that.”
“St. Paul always likes to tout itself as having some of the best ice in the country. He was part of that,” said Scott Clasen, now general manager of the St. Paul Curling Club.
In 2002, Dexter coached the U.S. junior women’s team, skipped by Cassie Potter (then Johnson), to a world championship gold medal. Dexter was named U.S. Curling Association coach of the year. Potter would later go on to compete in the Olympics.
Health problems slowed Dexter down in recent years, but he continued to work as an assistant manager at the St. Paul club, greeting people who came in and urging them to come back when they left.
Ordway described Dexter as “just a tremendous ambassador for the St. Paul Curling Club and the sport of curling overall.”
Dexter is survived by his wife, Debbie; sons Mike and Jeff; sister Pam Wortman, and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at Trinity Church, 10658 210th St. W., Lakeville, with a gathering after the memorial service at the St. Paul Curling Club, 470 Selby Av., St. Paul.
Richard Chin • 612-673-1775 • Twitter: @rrchin