Big Dipper

The interior of the Big Dipper Ice Arena is seen Sept. 4, 2014. Hez Ray bought an old World War II aircraft hangar for $1 and had it disassembled and moved from  Tanacross to Fairbanks in 1968. That hangar became the Big Dipper Ice Arena. On March 17, Ray passed away in Spanaway, Washington. ERIN CORNELIUSSEN/NEWS-MINER file photo

The family of Hez Ray requested no flowers be sent in remembrance of the man who spearheaded an effort to bring an old aircraft hangar from Tananacross and develop it into what is now the Big Dipper Ice Arena.

The family, instead, asked that donations be sent to the Tanana Valley Youth Sports Foundation, Inc., to remember Ray, who died March 17 in Spanaway, Washngton.

Ray’s passing came 16 days after his 88th birthday.

“He was a Texan but he loved Alaska like nobody,’’ Debra Ray Shapiro, one of Hez and Beverly Ray’s five children, said Tuesday night from Tucson, Arizona.

Hez Ray, who was born in Hereford, Texas and raised in Bonham, Texas, had a passion for sports.

“Hez was a champion for the youth!’’ is among the sentences in his obituary.

The Hez Ray Athletic Complex was named for him and it includes the Big Dipper Ice Arena, Kiwanis Football Field and the four-diamond Hez Ray Softball Complex.

During the 1950s, Hez was a standout player and team captain for the men’s basketball team at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he also earned an education degree.

Hez served as the director and vice president of the first Arctic Winter Games in 1970 in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

He also was a physical education teacher at Lathrop High School and later served as the City of Fairbanks parks and recreation director.

“He coached everything at Lathrop,’’ Shapiro said.

Hez also coached high school wrestling in Texas during the 1970s.

Shapiro said her father wanted his ashes to be spread around the Birch Hill Recreation Area, which has hosted countless Nordic ski races and cross-country running events.

“We thought we’d maybe do perhaps a celebration at the Big Dipper because that was his dream,’’ said Shapiro.

“We haven’t planned out anything concretely, but everybody is saying, ‘Oh, we want to do this, we want to get together.’

“We know there’s a lot of people in Fairbanks who want to be a part of this.”

No dates for a celebration have been set yet. The family also is hoping to have memorial services for Hez this summer in Fairbanks and Bonham.

Hez’s vision for the Big Dipper cost a dollar.

He convinced then-Gov. Walter Hickel to sell him an old World War II aircraft hangar in Tanacross for $1.

In 1968, he initiated the effort to disassemble the hangar and move it to Fairbanks.

High school students and volunteers helped him dismantle the structure and transport it more than 220 miles to where it would eventually become the home of the North American Hockey League’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs and the Fairbanks Hockey Hall of Fame.

In Randy Zarnke’s book, “Fairbanks Hockey Pioneers,” Ed Ross described part of his experience of helping Hez with the Big Dipper project.

Ross was then a 17-year-old pilot. He had earned his pilot’s license a year earlier.

“We started around April 1,’’ Ross said in the book. “It was still pretty cold. Hez took a crew of 15-20 high school students down to Tanacross to start taking the building apart.

“He treated us all like adults, which made us feel pretty good.

“One of the first jobs was to shovel snow off the roof.

“One guy fell through a soft spot. Luckily, his foot caught on something and they were able to pull him back up.

“After that, Hez insisted that everyone be roped together.”

Zarnke, in an email Tuesday to the News-Miner, said of Hez, “The man was a huge force in developing sports facilities and opportunities for kids in Fairbanks. He was the genius behind the Big Dipper.”

Hez’s survivors include his wife; three daughters, Debra Ray Shapiro, Donna Robinson, of Sumner, Washington, and Melody Atwood, of Spanaway; and a son, Hez Ray Jr., of Fairbanks. Another daughter, Diane Ray, preceded Hez in death.

Donations for the Tanana Valley Sports Foundation, Inc., can be sent to PO Box 61312, Fairbanks, 99706-1312.

Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter: @newsminersports.