Town Crier: Oakland Ice Center a magical elixir for ageless wonder


Tony Howard, who turns 88 soon, is getting ready for one of his 10 group lessons a week at Oakland Ice Center. Howard has been teaching skating for 65 years and says he’s been giving lessons to one student for 50 years. (Courtesy of Kara Piganelli)

MONTCLARION: March 7, 2018

The Olympics are over in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but it seems our winter is just ramping up. The skiing was epic at Northstar California this week after a 66-inch snow dump. And as I barreled down the back side of one of my favorite Sierra resorts, I channeled a fellow cold weather enthusiast who is still teaching skating, just weeks from his 88th birthday.

Tony Howard is my daughter’s instructor at Oakland Ice Center. Three times a week, he toddles out on the ice with the help of his students and his cane. And his lessons are magical.

“I have a lot of energy for my age,” says Howard, who’s been teaching for 65 years. “One student I’ve been teaching for 50 years. She started when she was 14 and now she’s 64. Comes all the way from Pacifica.”

Howard came to the United States from England in 1955 after befriending an American team of skaters while he was competing in Norway. “They invited me, for one year, to come to the U.S. I was a civil engineer at the time and thought, ‘I’ll take a leave and if I come back, I’ll still have my job.’”

Cupid had other plans. Howard married one of his students (she proposed to him) and he’s been teaching in the Bay Area ever since. And when Berkeley Iceland closed in 2007, he found a home at Oakland Ice Center.

“It’s one of the best rinks for me. My students pull me on the ice and I stand there and coach them with my walking stick,” he says.

Like a maestro with his orchestra, Howard uses his cane and his vast knowledge of skating to direct his students on the glistening ice. Over the years, he’s taught skaters who’ve gone on to the Olympics, including a young woman from Korea who couldn’t speak English.

“She represented her country in the Olympics in 1972. It was just her and one other fellow and she carried the flag,” he recalls.

Forty-five years later, Howard has no plans to retire. In fact, he sees teaching on ice as a kind of cold therapy.


“It’s the reason I’m 88 and still pretty active,” he says. “If you put a piece of meat in the refrigerator, it’s going to last a lot longer.”

Fake foliage: Of all the plants in bloom right now, French broom is the most prolific. And don’t let the name fool you. This yellow bush is a nasty, invasive weed and a fire hazard.

“French broom is like tinder on a stick and can act as a fire ladder lifting the flames into the trees,” says hills resident and retired TV anchor Wendy Tokuda. She’s helping lead a volunteer work party in the Oakland hills from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. Wear green, bring your gloves and meet at the utility yard across from the fire station at 5921 Shepherd Canyon Road.

Event alert: You’ve heard of wine trails … well, the Livermore Valley has a painted barrel trail. Fifteen wineries have hand-painted wine barrels on their properties, thanks to a team of local artists, students and Scout troops. The barrel art is up through this weekend and it’s a perfect time to see it because it’s Barrel Tasting Weekend in the Livermore Valley Wine Country. See 3624/barrel-tasting-weekend for more information.

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by email at or on the web at



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