Bidding farewell to ‘Little Unc’

The Freeman and Kivimaki families, as has been the norm during many a winter evening for many a year, headed to Everett Freeman’s favourite restaurant a week ago Saturday.
After dinner (again, like normal), the group headed in the direction of the Memorial Sports Centre for the evening’s scheduled hockey game.
The rest of the contingent took up its usual spots directly behind the scorer’s box at the Ice For Kids Arena while Lanny Freeman took his regular position in the box to handle timekeeping duties for the SIJHL game between the Fort Frances Lakers and Minnesota Iron Rangers.
But this was no normal night because, for the first time in 45 years of countless high school and junior hockey games, Lanny turned to his left and had to come to grips with the fact his ever-present sidekick would never sit beside him again.
Everett Freeman, Lanny’s brother and the keeper of the scoresheet alongside his sibling since 1972, died of liver cancer on the morning of Jan. 14 at the age of 66.
His funeral takes place this Saturday (Jan. 28) at 11 a.m. at Knox United Church here.
Lanny will keep making the trek to the rink when required. But he knows it never will feel the same again without Everett sitting by his side.
“He touched a lot of people in this community,” Lanny said just 12 hours after standing by his brother’s bedside in his final moments.
“He was always out walking and meeting people. No matter where he worked, he was highly-liked,” added Lanny, who still has one brother, Al, but is the last of the three Freeman brothers who were long-standing contributors to the local hockey scene (former Times’ sports reporter and regular P.A. announcer Mike Freeman passed away in 2012).
“They’re going to miss him a lot in the community.”
Everett not only was known for his hockey contributions, but also was a proud member of the Fort Frances Lions Club and volunteered for numerous other local endeavours.
Music also was a large part of Everett’s life as he sang with the Fort Frances Choraliers and in the Knox United Church choir. But his loyalty and sense of duty to the teams he kept score for were second-to-none.
“Dad [Lanny] and Everett were in the box working the night I was born,” Everett’s niece, Sarah Kivimaki, smiled about the man she and other family members affectionately referred to as “Little Unc.”
“He was so unselfish and put everyone before himself,” she added. “He was kind and caring and always young at heart.
“My son, Scotty, said Everett was the boy cousin he never had.”
Jim Fowler, who took over P.A. announcing for the Lakers after Mike Freeman’s passing, unabashedly called Everett “probably the best scorekeeper I ever saw in there.”
“His handwriting was immaculate,” said Jim.
“He was quiet, and he did his job really well and enjoyed it. You didn’t have to worry about a thing.
“He was a good friend of everybody,” Jim added. “You can’t say a bad word about the guy.
“He was the perfect gentlemen.”
Indeed, Everett remains one of the few people I’ve personally known who I honestly can say never heard anybody have a problem with or about whom I never heard a derogatory comment of any sort.
That’s not just rare these days–that’s almost unheard of.
The Lakers held a moment of silence before their Jan. 14 game which, befitting a man of Everett’s character, was a much longer moment than I’ve witnessed in similar situations.
“It’s not a good thing to hear,” Lakers’ head coach and general manager Wayne Strachan after this game–which, in another tribute, the Lakers dedicated to Everett’s memory and then went out and soundly defeated the Iron Rangers 7-3.
“From the organization’s standpoint, we’ve lost a great volunteer who’s been here since junior hockey started,” added Wayne.
“I was talking to Wayne Allan today and remembering that Everett was in the box when I was playing for the Muskies back in 1989,” he recalled.
“He was a dedicated guy to being in the box and dedicated to his family. You can’t ask much more than what he gave back to the community and to hockey, in general.
“It’s a sad day for all of hockey in Fort Frances,” Wayne added. “He will be missed around the rink and the Lakers send condolences to the Freeman and Kivimaki families.”
Such sentiments warm the heart of Sarah.
“I’m so proud he was my uncle,” she beamed.
Lanny gave a simple answer to why the families Everett left behind would choose to gather at the rink later on the same day they lost their loved one.
“That’s what he would have wanted us to do,” said Lanny, who gladly will carry on the Freeman tradition of being in the scorer’s box–and believes he won’t really be there by himself.
“I’ll be here and he’ll be here with us.”