PHILADELPHIA – New Prague athletic director Brad Skogerboe left work Thursday evening in time to get home and watch the Gophers hockey team play in the national semifinals.
On his way out of school, Skogerboe ran into Bob Ambroz, a night custodian at the high school. He’s also the father of Seth Ambroz, a junior winger for the Gophers.
Skogerboe asked Bob what he was doing at school.
“I’m working,” Bob replied.
The Ambroz family has endured some tough financial times since Bob lost his welder’s job in 2009 after 35 years. Bob found a job as a school custodian. His wife, Sue, works for a farmer in Lakeville. Money is tight.
“Just paycheck to paycheck,” Sue said.
The cost of traveling to Philadelphia to watch their son play in the Frozen Four on short notice wasn’t doable, not even driving. Bob and Sue were devastated.
“It was breaking our hearts, but Seth was good about it,” Sue said.
It bothered Skogerboe that two loving, hardworking parents had to miss out on such a memorable event in their son’s life. It bothered him that Bob refused to miss his 3-11:30 p.m. shift so that he could stay home and watch the game on TV.
Bob described that decision as “difficult,” but he didn’t want to put his employer in a tough spot.
“I’m loyal to my partners, and we have difficulty getting subs,” he said.
Skogerboe took matters into his own hands.
“Right then, I said, ‘If [the Gophers] win tonight, there’s no way he’s not going to be there,’ ” Skogerboe said. “We’ll get something figured out. They should be there. That’s the bottom line.”
Skogerboe called his superintendent, Tim Dittberner, with an idea almost immediately after Justin Holl’s stunning goal with less than a second remaining against North Dakota in the semifinals.
Skogerboe wanted to start a fundraising campaign to help send Bob and Sue to Philadelphia for Saturday’s national championship game. Skogerboe called a few co-workers who agreed to match his contribution.
The next day, New Prague Principal Lonnie Seifert sent an e-mail to faculty explaining the situation. Donations poured in — $10, $20, $100.
Everyone chipped in. Teachers, support staff, bus drivers, kitchen workers, administrators. In all, 57 employees of the high school made a contribution.
“Bob is such a valued employee of our school district,” Skogerboe said. “Such a nice man that everybody wanted to help out.”
By 3 p.m. Friday, Skogerboe had raised $1,800 — enough to cover all of Bob and Sue’s expenses.
Skogerboe called Bob to his office for a meeting. Bob wasn’t sure why. He had just received a positive job review so he figured it was nothing serious. Skogerboe told him to pack his bags … he’s going to Philadelphia.
“I was broken up in tears,” Bob said. “I was at a loss for words.”
Skogerboe felt a lump in his throat, too.
“I’ve had a lot of meetings in my office that are far from pleasurable,” he said. “To be able to be a part of something like that was just outstanding.”
The two then tricked Sue into coming to the school for a meeting with Skogerboe, who occasionally uses Sue to umpire softball games. Skogerboe told Sue that he needed to talk to her about umpiring. She got the surprise of a lifetime.
“When they told me, I think my body went into shock,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
Bob and Sue took an early flight to Philadelphia on Saturday morning and spent the afternoon visiting with other parents at a pep fest a few hours before the game.
“I think it’s my mom pulling strings in heaven,” said Sue, whose mother died suddenly two years ago.
That show of kindness also is a real testament to the New Prague community.
“If somebody needs something, the people here in New Prague step up and take care of it,” Skogerboe said.
Bob wanted to emphasize that point as he reflected on the outpouring of support his family received the past few days. He and his wife got to watch their son play for a national championship because of the generosity of many people, some of whom they might not even know well, or at all.
“It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” Bob said. “The Ambroz family thanks the small-town community for what they’ve done for us.”