Four Swift Current Broncos who lost their lives 30 years ago in a tragic bus crash were honoured Friday at the site of the crash with the unveiling of a monument east of Swift Current.
Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff were killed when the team’s mid-1960s Western Flyer D600 Canuck hit a patch of black ice and lost control on Dec. 30, 1986.
Since the accident, Swift Current resident Bill Lee took it upon himself to help the city remember the four players.
“As time went on after the bus crash I saw nothing was getting done (in terms of a memorial) and I kept waiting. I lived just down the road, so for me, it was a pain with the weeds and dead grass (at the bus crash site),” Lee said Friday afternoon.
“I did a lot of charity golf tournaments at that time, so I thought one of them I would make it my goals (to raise funds for a memorial). So I raised not quite as much as I wanted only around $12,000, I usually raise around $30,000 at most of them, but that was my start.”
Lee struggled to secure the piece of land where the crash happened, due to rules and regulations imposed by the Ministry of Highways. The current site of the memorial was donated recently to the project to pave the way for the monument.
With the $12,000 set aside for the project, Lee started to add to the funds out of his own pocket to keep the dream of the monument alive.
“I loved that Scotty Kruger, he was an unbelievable kid. He meant a lot to me, so I said that’s it I’m going to do it (build the monument), I don’t care who’s in my way,” Lee said.
“I started to see daylight once the dirt was down. I had a few rough days out because nobody was showing up (to help). Eventually, I looked over the hill and here comes this big paving company that was Southwest Paving who donated all their time. Mobile Paving donated all the paving (materials) and they are coming back next year to help me finish it. There is still a lot of work to be done out there, right now we are in the process of getting power hooked (up).”
Growing up, Lee was a boarder at the Kruger house, helping the family raise their children including Scott.
“I’ve been working on this over for a lot of years, over the last while my anger has subsided, I’m more at peace now with what has happened. I’m not as mad anymore when I go to the rink because I use to go to hockey games and I’d be just fuming inside,” he said.
“I would go over and tap that little picture of Scotty every game, send him a kiss and keep telling him someday I’ll have you out there buddy. It finally came true.
Swift Current Broncos governor Al Stewart was on hand during the memorial unveiling and shared the spirit behind the four leaf clover worn on the Swift Current Broncos jerseys.
“I’m not really sure if everybody understands what the four leaf clover means. We will never retire (another) number for fear that it will diminish those four. So this is all the jersey (numbers) that will ever be retired (by the team) and that’s the symbol of that decision,” Steward told SwiftCurrentOnline.
Gordie Hahn was the Broncos trainer at the time of the crash but wasn’t on the bus the day of the accident. When he was informed of the accident he was in Winnipeg.
“I didn’t hear about it until the second period, they were told not to tell me until after the game. Danny Lambert called me into the dressing room to tell me he had lost a contact and he told me then. I just came unglued and collapsed, I didn’t know what to do,” Hahn said Friday afternoon at Great Plains College in Swift Current.
Don Mantyka, the father of Chris, was one of seven family members at the event and spoke about the significance of this time of year for him.
“As much as you want to spend Christmas with your family, that presence is still there. It’s like an anniversary every year, it doesn’t go away. You think sometimes this is supposed to live its life out, but it doesn’t. I appreciate this because the boys haven’t been forgotten,” Mantyka said.
He also shared some fond memories of his son.
“Speaking to some of the people that knew him, had good, positive things to say about him. He did as much community work as he could in his off time. I remember him coming home and speaking so highly of the people of the community and how they supported the team, which is very important and I know the Broncos at that time did appreciate them,” Mantyka said.
Brent Ruff was 16-years-old at the time of his death. His oldest brother Randy, who attended the unveiling, still has fond memories of the talented left winger.
“He never played midget hockey, he came right out of bantam to play junior hockey. He was a very talented and special player. As you probably know there is only probably two families that had more than three brothers play in the league (in the WHL). I think he might have been the best one of us, so that was maybe a career taken away from him, but he left us doing something he wanted to do,” Randy Ruff said.