Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Skating legend Herman Maricich left a lasting legacy

Longtime Sun Valley resident died Saturday at age 90


Herman Maricich first brought his dapper charm to Sun Valley in 1942, and was still involved in the figure skating club into his old age. Express file photo

Anyone who has enjoyed a summer ice show under the stars, skated a few laps around Sun Valley’s iconic outdoor rink or taken in a Suns hockey game has enjoyed something Herman Maricich helped create. For decades, he simply defined skating in Sun Valley. This showman, technician, teacher, visionary and Sun Valley icon passed away peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 4 from congenital heart failure. He was surrounded by family in his Sun Valley home and had recently reached the impressive age of 90.
    Maricich arrived in Sun Valley via a circuitous route. He began skating in Oakland, Calif., his hometown, when he was 12. His first laps on the ice were taken on speed skates that he bought for $7 with paper route money. He took to skating right away and trained in speed skating, figure skating and stunt skating—the genesis of acts that would captivate Sun Valley audiences for years.
    In 1942, eight years after the resort opened its doors, Maricich heard they needed skaters for a show called the Ice Carnival. At the time, he was working in a shipyard, and the lure of sunshine, clean air, mountains and pretty skaters made it an easy decision to hop on a train to Idaho. During that summer, he lived in the Lodge basement, called the Lower Three, worked as a skating instructor and performed in the weekly shows. He spent free time hiking, picnicking and falling in love with Sun Valley.
    Training to be a fighter pilot took Maricich away during the war years. He was an officer in the Air Force, flying P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes. After the war, he returned to California and earned a degree in business administration from the University of California at Berkeley on the GI Bill.
    But the ice still called to him. During this time, he competed and became Pacific Coast junior champion and skated in two national competitions, taking third place in the pair skating Nationals of 1947. He returned to Sun Valley’s summer shows in 1947, and it was here that he was discovered by an ice show producer working with the incomparable Sonja Henie. Maricich got a part in the Sonja Henie Ice Show and started a career touring the country skating men’s pairs and singles programs.
    But Sun Valley’s spell brought Maricich back to the Wood River Valley, and he settled among the mountains for good in 1953. He brought back with him his young wife, Connie, who he had met between tours in California. When Sun Valley’s Hans Johnson invited Maricich to come teach and skate at the resort full-time, the Maricich era began in earnest.
     Skating in Sun Valley was quickly evolving and gaining in popularity, becoming closely associated with America’s first destination resort, and Maricich was a man of vision. He took over operation of the rink on a lease basis and began to transform Sun Valley into the figure skating capital of America. He taught the famous and beautiful. He took Lucille Ball and her children for spins around the rink and had to keep reminding a gaggle of Kennedy kids that hockey was not allowed. During his heyday as manager at the rink and lead pro, he rubbed elbows with the likes of Ann Sothern, Leonard Bernstein and Gary Cooper. He took over the children’s skating program and directed their numbers in the ice show. Maricich went on to put together a skating school that has evolved into today’s Sun Valley Figure Skating Club, which boasts more than 200 members.
With the hiring of dozens of new great pros, the program truly began to gain momentum. It got so busy, and the need for year-round skating grew to such an extent, that it became evident that the resort needed an indoor rink to remain competitive. But resort owner Bill Janss did not want to finance the project, so Maricich went to the private sector to secure funding for what is now Sun Valley’s indoor ice rink. He took over as the general manager of a project and supervised construction.   
Hands on in every way, Maricich invented a precursor to the modern ice clearing Zamboni machine and kept Sun Valley’s outdoor ice fresh even in the worst weather. That truck, the “Hermoni” was retired from use at Atkinson Park only last year after 36 years of service.
Through all this, Maricich kept skating, because that is what he loved to do. In Sun Valley’s storied Saturday night ice shows, he was known for comedic and daredevil acts. Among the most memorable and popular were his bullfighter routine, a skating polar bear and, later, an elegant duet performed in tails. Maricich also made his mark as a barrel jumper, an act that would stay in the family when son Nick took over and refined the production number.  He choreographed numbers, helped to build sets and even created innovative costumes like animal heads that featured moving parts.
Maricich’s “Hermanettes” were also part of the glamour.  The Hermanettes were pretty skaters in flattering costumes who performed support roles in Maricich’s numbers. His second wife, Mariana Stoltzfus, an accomplished skater whom he met in Vail, returned to Sun Valley with Maricich and skated as a Hermanette in the ice shows for 15 years. The Hermanettes performed most memorably in Maricich’s elegant duet with long-time skating partner Dick Saulter and later Glenn Patterson and Charles Feder, to crowd favorite “Singin’ in the Rain.”
    Maricich was an integral member of the community in many ways. He and Connie opened the valley’s first espresso coffee bar in Ketchum in 1960, proving they were way ahead of their time. Maricich also opened the Boiler Room in Sun Valley, which for many years operated as a popular disco and nightclub.
    But Maricich came to Sun Valley to skate, and skate here he did, for more than 68 years. To those who knew him, he was dapper, charming and intelligent, with a sparkle in his eyes that never dimmed. He single-handedly brought a touch of elegance and humor to the Sun Valley Ice Shows and helped shape the long and lasting legacy of Sun Valley as a figure skating hot spot. His Learn to Skate class lessons, which he taught personally, are still remembered by generations of locals.

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