GARDINER – For 39 years he made sure bills were paid, his few employees got their paychecks on time and the doors to the Kennebec Ice Arena stayed open.

“We made a little money for three of those 39 years,” said Peter Prescott. “It was enough to keep me in cigarettes.”

Then the roof caved in, literally if not financially. An apparent combination of snow buildup, gusting winds and an aging structure led to a sudden collapse six months ago in the middle of an afternoon.

No one was on the ice, no high school team was in a locker room. Three staff members escaped injury. Prescott wants to rebuild but the insurance company has still paid nothing on the claim. Prescott has asked the city of Hallowell, where the property is located, for tax relief. That discussion continues. So does the countdown to another winter hockey season.

Prescott owns EJ Prescott, a successful pipeline supply company in many states but its home office is in Gardiner. He says he’s working hard to retire by age 55 when in fact, he’s about 15 years past that. If the original arena returned nothing but the investment to him and the 10 partners he pursuaded to join him at the time, why not just walk away in 2011 and let someone else carry the pucks?

“If you can find that person make sure to let me know. He’ll be my partner. With today’s money, there isn’t anyone else.”

He talks about the obligation he feels to hundreds of families in the Augusta area, who scrimp and save to buy hockey skates and hockey gear. They’ve made an investment in their children. Why can’t he?

I tell him 39 years is a long time to be subsidizing an ice arena for the local hockey community. He did spearhead the drive to build the Kennebec Ice Arena, when he counted the cost of driving his two children and their friends to the old Riverside ice rink in Portland several times a week. That was a long, long time ago.

“Gas was 30 cents a gallon,” he said. Everything cost less then, including ice arenas. But today, if he didn’t lead and push, no one else would. Wasn’t I listening?

He likes to organize parades, but you won’t find him leading one. Prescott knows where he’s left footprints. It’s not important to him to see his name on a building or hear it on the lips of others.

If the hockey community knows his name, the auto racing family cheers it. He bought an American-Canadian Tour race team some 20 years ago and gave a red-headed youngster from Newburgh his first real chance to show his stuff.

Ricky Craven probably would have found his way to Sprint Cup racing in NASCAR regardless, but the point is his debt is to Prescott. Even married Prescott’s niece.

Prescott has helped many other drivers, including Andy Santerre of Cherryfield. To this day, EJP sponsor decals are on nearly 20 go-karts and stock cars in northern New England. Why? Prescott shrugs.

Bob Bahre was going to build a new NASCAR speedway somewhere in northern New England, but it was Prescott who first negotiated with Keith Bryar for the sale of Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, N.H. Prescott brought a proposal to Bahre, who bit.

Saturday, he opened the doors to his PEP Classic Car restoration facility for a United Way fundraiser. For $75 and $100 for a couple, you got to see the collection of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury flathead convertibles dating from 1932-1953 and owned by Prescott and his wife, Sandra.

My favorite was the one-of-a-kind Hudson Hornet restored to look like the car raced by a NASCAR legend, Tim Flock. It was a rusted, stripped hulk when Prescott found it in a field.

In 1951 and ’52, NASCAR ran 38 races and Hudson won 27, said Prescott. That’s why he went looking.

He brought it to Loudon during one of the NASCAR weekends.

He put on a too-small vintage racing helmet and headed to the garage area before track security stopped him.

“Hey,” said Prescott to the startled guard, “I’ve got to get on the track for the last qualifying heat. If I don’t, they’ll start me last.”

The guard didn’t know what to say, which was Prescott’s purpose.

Now he wants to rebuild an ice arena that won’t earn him a dime. Why?

“C’mon, you’re a smart guy,” he tells me. “Figure it out.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com