By Felicity Bosk
The YellowJacket ice hockey teams play their home games at the Siinto S. Wessman Arena on the campuses south end, but have you ever heard much about who this man was and how he got an ice hockey arena named after him?
If you look back at the archives of the UWS student newspaper (it was called the Peptomist from 1920-1974), you will find Wessman’s name begin to be mentioned in 1928 when he was in fifth grade at McCaskill School, a grade school that used to be on the UWS campus. Here he was the editor of the “Junior Peptomist.” Also in fifth grade the Peptomist reported he was on the school basketball team and he won first place in a poetry contest.
When he was a student at UWS in the late 1930’s, he was the business manager for the Peptomist as well as involved in theater. After school he went on to work for the Evening Telegram (now known at the Superior Telegram) and the Duluth News Tribune. For some years toward the end of World War 2 he was a lieutenant in the military. Wessman was a public relation specialist for the military stationed in France. According to a Peptomist article in 1945, “he has had a few brushes with the Germans in the front line missions.”
In 1954 he was a speaker at UWS, and high school students from northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan came to hear him speak and attend a tri-state journalism conference.
He was appointed to the UW Board of Regents in 1966 but continued to living in Superior’s Billings Park neighborhood. One of the first things he did was advocate for UWS to create a men’s physical education program at UWS. It took only a month for the Board of Regents to approve of this and the program to begin to be built—but they needed a new field house.
The following year he began to advocate the construction of an Olympic size ice arena on the campuses south end. Wessman wanted this space to be used indoor tennis during the hockey off-season.
The September 1969 issue of the Peptomist featured a photo of Wessman among others digging a shovel into the earth, thus officially ground-breaking the new ice arena. In 1970 the Peptomist reported the new ice arena would be named for Wessman to honor his work in creating the arena, promoting physical education, and his time and service to UWS.
Board of Regent members have limited terms and after Wessman’s ended, he managed a bakery. Some years later, he came back to UWS as the president of the UWS Foundation which “raises funds to provide scholarships to as many students as we can,” Wessman said to a Promethean reporter in 1992.
The Wessman’s did not stop caring for Wessman Arena even into the new millennium. In February 2006, the Promethean reported the Wessman family would be donating $100,000 worth of new sound equipment for the ice hockey arena.
Siinto S. Wessman passed away on March 17, after a brief illness, according to the Duluth News Tribune.