By Seth Daniel
When talking about Francis ‘Frankie’ Stillman, his imprint on the Charlestown Youth Hockey Association (CYHA) and Boston hockey community was as big emotionally as the man was big physically.
The hulking man, who played hockey at Charlestown High School and as a resident of the Town and rink manager in Charlestown, helped hundreds of young people from Charlestown, the North End, Beacon Hill and other places where the popular City hockey league draws players.
His dedication to his friends, and more importantly to the youth hockey players, was unmatched, and so the sudden loss of him in October 2014 left a hole in the hockey community that has yet to be filled. Now, after nearly three years of mourning a dear friend, four of his closest friends are ready to memorialize Stillman in a way that he would find fitting: helping youth hockey players from the city neighborhoods.
Dubbing the effort Frankie’s Friends, Michael Gautreau, Chris Kiene, Jackie Sullivan and Jim Vesey are preparing to host a blockbuster fundraising event on Friday, Sept. 29, at the Charlestown Knights of Columbus, Medford Street, starting at 7 p.m.
“Frankie was the biggest hockey fan out of all of us growing up,” said Vesey, a former pro hockey player whose son, Jimmy, plays for the New York Rangers. “He was a die-hard Bruins fan, and if they were on TV, he was watching it. Down at the Charlestown rink, everyone knew him. He would help kids put on their skates and get their hockey equipment on if their parents weren’t there. If the kids didn’t know what to do, he was there for them. He didn’t have to do that. As a rink manager, he could have sat in his office and not done anything. He didn’t do that. He was the first to help these kids. He knew all the kids down there and he made them feel welcome and he made them feel at home. We want to keep that welcoming feeling down there in his absence.”
That, Vesey and his friends said, was something that Stillman was concerned about for years, as youth hockey began to become less of a blue-collar sport popular with city kids – that due to increasing fees and the cost of equipment. Frankie’s Friends said they have learned from CYHA that about 20 percent of the kids in the program, whether from the North End, Charlestown or Beacon Hill, cannot afford to pay all of the fees.
That’s where Stillman would have jumped in immediately, and that’s where his friends are now intent on picking up the slack.
At the time on Sept. 29, they plan to raffle off incredible items, including a complete signed photos of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, as well as signed items from professionals Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, Patrice Bergeron, Keith Tkachuk, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton, and other surprises.
One very unique opportunity for the younger crowd will be a day of ball hockey with Jimmy Vesey and his brother, Nolan Vesey of the University of Maine, at the Charlestown Boys and Girls Club.
They hope to raise $20,000 from the event and auction so that they can help 20 families in need with scholarships to cover the costs of the league, as well as to provide operational cost supports for the CYHA league. All proceeds will go to either the scholarships or operational costs of the league. Those chosen for the scholarships will be known as ‘Frankie’s Friends,’ organizers said.
Frankie’s Friends still remember their big-hearted friend driving the Zamboni at the rink, sharpening skates for young people or cajoling with his many pro hockey friends around the league – who all knew him as ‘Big Frank.’ He was also known by many around Boston as a popular bouncer at Kitty O’Shea’s bar and as a very popular Uber driver.
His friends, however, remember him as one dedicated to youth hockey proliferation in the North End, Charlestown and Beacon Hill. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do for a kid or a friend, they said, and so that’s why the group is really hoping all those who knew Stillman might be willing to donate or purchase items from the Silent Auction so as much can be raised as possible to keep youth hockey in the city alive – as Stillman would have wanted.
“Frankie was just a good person,” said Gautreau. “He would do anything for anybody, especially the kids down at the rink. We’re really going to miss him, but this is going to be something that’s a lot of fun to do in his name. He would appreciate this, because he was just such a hockey nut.”
Tickets to the event are $25, and the raffle and silent auction will be set up inside. There will also be music and other entertainment.
Donations can be sent to Jim Vesey, 11 Ellwood St., Charlestown, MA 02129. Checks should be made out to CYHA. Questions about the event can be directed to Gautreau at (978) 604-9632.