Rob Kleemann is a man who wears many hats. In his role as director of the Kiwanis Ice Arena, he does everything from booking private events on the ice for birthday parties to hosting recreational hockey teams. He creates the schedule for public skating, fixes skates and does just about everything else needed to keep the popular rink running as smoothly as possible. But for kids in the area, Kleemann is most famous as the guy who drives the Zamboni.
“They’re always up at the wall watching and waving at us,” Kleemann said. “Especially on weekends.”
Kleeman figures he’s trained eight or ten other people to operate the massive, lumbering ice-smoothing vehicle, with a current rotation of six or seven people during the busy season. Kids will stare with fascination as the Zamboni rumbles out. Some hope to get the chance to drive it themselves some day. Kleemann was once one of those kids, and he began his long affiliation with the ice arena when it first opened while he was still in high school.
“I started out when it first opened as a part-time helper,” said the Class of 2000 Saugerties High alumnus. “I worked there through college, and when I was done with college everything was blowing up and they decided they needed someone to run it. I was basically doing it at that time without the title. So they said, If you want it, it’s yours.”
Kleemann’s first Zamboni experience came at the end of his first year at the arena, when he was given the chance to take the machine for a test run at the end of the season. “I didn’t do too badly,” he said. “And the next year I got on it when we started [the season] and learned a bit more, and I’ve been driving it ever since.”
The Zamboni you’ll see on the ice today is not the one that Kleemann cut his teeth on. The current model is a much smoother beast. “We used to have one before the one we have now,” Kleemann said. “It was a lot older, from ’69. It was tired, a lot harder to run than this one. If you could run that one, you could run this one with your eyes closed.”
Kleemann described operating the Zamboni: “The best way I can describe it is that it’s like driving in a snowstorm with no brakes.”
What makes Saugerties unique?
It’s a small town, but it has a lot in it. There’s always something going on. Not many places have an ice rink. We have the mum festival and the garlic festival, and now we have the wing fling.
What is your favorite virtue?
I try and treat everybody the way I want to be treated. Treat everybody with respect and hopefully they will do the same.
What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?
One thing I always wanted to try, I guess, was to go into the Coast Guard. My parents have always had boats, and I’ve always been on the water. I’ve seen them out there doing their job and I’ve always thought it would be cool to do.
What are your favorite color, flower and animal?
Blue, I don’t have a favorite flower, and I guess dogs.
What do you like about this community?
It’s very friendly. Everybody knows everybody, and if you happen to need something or you have a problem, somebody is always willing to help out.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here?
I can’t think of his name, but I met one of the guys from The Sopranos once about five or six years ago in the summertime. It was at the San Gennaro festival at Stella’s Station and he was there. I talked to him briefly, but I didn’t want to blow him up.
What is your idea of a perfect Saturday?
If it was in the summertime, I’d say I’d be out on my boat fishing. It’s just relaxing, quiet, no phones, no internet, nothing. Just relaxing.
What qualities do you admire most in others?
Friendliness.Being nice and upfront.
What is your idea of happiness?
Having a good job, a house.All that kind of stuff.
What is your idea of misery?
The Giants not making the playoffs. I almost went to that game (the Giants lost to Washington, 23-10). I thought, “It’s too cold, I’m going to stay home and watch it.”
What talent do you wish you had been given?
I’d like to have been talented enough to be a pro athlete.
What is your main fault?
People tell me sometimes I’m too nice. I don’t know if that’s a fault.
For which fault do you have the most tolerance?
Lateness. I’m tolerant of that … to a point.
What is your favorite motto?
Time is money.
Do you have any heroes?
I’d say my dad. He helped instill my work ethic. He was a hard worker and turned me into a hard worker. He said not to expect anything, that you should work to get it yourself.
What character in history do you most dislike?
Hitler. He killed a lot of people.
What is your present state of mind?
I’d say I’m happy. I’m in the process of buying a new house.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear Saint Peter say when he greets you?
“We’ve been expecting you.”