‘LIGHTING UP THE ROOM,’ GRAMPS RETURNS TO THE K-WINGS
Alan Forrester honors Joel Martin & team by volunteering as an assistant equipment manager at 87 years old in 2022-23.
Pam Shebest for the K-Wings
KALAMAZOO, MI - Fake ﬁghts, fractured French and jokes, a lot of jokes, in the locker room mean that Alan Forrester, aka “Gramps,” has returned to the Kalamazoo Wings.
After a 20-year break, Gramps is back, lending a hand to equipment manager Austin Dykstra.
“I tease them that this keeps me out of bingo parlors and buses that haul old folks to casinos,” quipped the 87-year-old spark plug.
Gramps’ ﬁrst stint with the K-Wings was in the early 1990s after he read a blurb in the Kalamazoo Gazette stating the organization was looking for a retired guy to help Corky Osborn in the training room.
Gramps, who retired from The Upjohn Co., at age 55, ﬁgured that was the perfect job for him.
During those early days with the K-Wings, he honed his prankster skills and, during training camp in October, he resurrected them after coach Joel Martin called to ask if he would be willing to once again lend a hand.
Martin not only remembers Gramps from those early days when he was the K-Wings goaltender, but kept in touch with him for the last 18 years.
“We had Austin coming in who was new to the position, so I wanted to try to get him as much help as I could,” Martin said.
“I thought of Gramps, knowing he’s done it before and knowing that guys would enjoy having him around the locker room.”
One prank Gramps resurrected needed the help of K-Wings forward Anthony Collins.
“Gramps came up and pulled me to the side and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got two new guys coming to the room, let’s pull a prank on them,’” Collins said. “‘I’m going to go in there and pretend to yell at you and I want you to pretend to hit me. I’m gonna clap my hands so it sounds like you hit me and see if we can get a good reaction out of them.’”
The co-conspirators pulled off the stunt with no problem.
“They had a good chuckle about it,” Collins said. “It kind of introduced them to the locker room and Gramps.”
Collins was the perfect foil since he’s an enforcer on the ice but a jokester off the ice.
“I get in right there with him to crack jokes and keep things light myself,” Collins said.
“So to have Gramps piggyback with me for some of the pranks and jokes we do is awesome.”
One of Martin’s favorite Gramps pranks from the past is the water bottle ﬁll.
“Guys would be in the cold tub and he’d start ﬁlling up water bottles from the cold tub,” Martin recalled, laughing already. “Guys would be looking at him and then Plando (former athletic trainer Mike Plandowski) would be yelling at him that he told Gramps not to ﬁll the water bottles out of there.
“Gramps would be like, ‘This is what I use for practice, what’s the big deal?’ And the guy sitting in the cold tub with eyes big as saucers like, oh my gosh.’
“That was my favorite one. I used to go watch that every time. ‘Gramps, there’s someone new in the cold tub. Let’s go.’”
Gramps also compassionate
Joking aside, Gramps also has a compassionate side and said helping out keeps him young.
“On his birthday in October, everyone chipped in to give him money and he donated it to Loves and Fishes,” Martin said.
Gramps explained that he was overwhelmed and embarrassed because he volunteers because he loves being around people.
He also makes sure he has a card for every player and staff member on their birthdays, and in the “old days,” used to have players to his house for meals.
One, in particular, included the team’s Russian players.
“When my wife was alive and we had the house, we used to invite players over for dinner, especially on holidays,” he said. “One year, we did Eastern Orthodox Christmas for the two or three Russians we had.
“One of them said he liked borscht. My neighbor had a cookbook of international foods, so I made borscht. Said it was the best borscht he ever had. It was good but not my favorite.”
That also led to an interest in the Russian language.
“My favorite story about the Russians we had was I found a cassette tape we had in those days in a little book about how to learn Russian in six weeks,” Gramps said.
“I played the tape during car rides and one of the things the man said was if you bump into someone, you must say proshu proshcheniya, which evidently means excuse me or I beg your pardon.
“One day in the training room, I said to them, ‘If you were in a game and you slam somebody into the boards, do you say proshu proshcheniya? One of them laughed and the other said, ‘No, no, no. Not necessary.’ It was fun.”
Gramps also had fun with some of the French-speaking players.
Conspiring with them, “I’d start talking nonsense French with the Quebeckers. Je vous donnerai une tasse de cafe de mes grands-pères. (I will give you a cup of my grandfathers' coffee).
“The western Canadians and Americans thought I was so smart but that was about all the French I know.”
Gramps’ pranks were not just relegated to the locker room.
One day at Meijer, he spotted former K-Wing Mel Angelstad trailed by roommate Mark Miller.
Gramps alerted Miller to be quiet then went up behind Angelstad.
“There happened to be a little old lady standing near there,” Gramps recalled. “I went to Mel and gave him a shove and he whirled around and said ‘Gramps, I’m going to break your brittle bones!’
“And this poor lady backed away like she was going to be in the middle of the war.”
Growing up with hockey
Gramps grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan and lived all over western Canada.
“The town I lived in for the most part, for ﬁve years, had a population of 350 people and two rinks, one for skating/hockey and one for curling,” he said. “It’s now a ghost town.”
He was working toward a degree in medicine at the University of Washington but left to join the United States Army where he served as a medic in Korea.
Following the war, he earned his degree and began working at The Upjohn Company. He was transferred to Kalamazoo in 1972.
Two years later, when the K-Wings were born, he began attending their games and eventually began volunteering there.
He also started volunteering at the hospice, Kairos Dwelling, and when doing both became too diﬃcult, he left the K-Wings.
He still volunteers at Kairos but did not hesitate when asked to return to the K-Wings.
Dykstra is thankful Gramps agreed to remain after training camp.
“He does laundry, washing, drying and folding, dumping and ﬁlling water bottles (presumably not from the cold tub), cleaning water bottles and whatever miscellaneous stuff I ﬁnd for him that day,” Dykstra said.
“Aside from helping out and doing a ton of laundry, he’s always got a smile on his face, he’s always cracking jokes, just lighting up the room.”
Collins echoed that.
“Gramps brings good energy every single day,” he said. “He’s always happy. There’s never a bad day. Whether we win or lose on the ice, he’s there to pick you up and cheer you on.
“He makes jokes and makes light of any situation. It’s amazing to have a guy like that around our locker room all the time to help pick the guys up, plus his jokes are awesome.”
The Kalamazoo Wings are a professional hockey team located in southwest Michigan that has been a staple in the Kalamazoo, MI professional sports landscape since 1974. The K-Wings compete in the ECHL and are the AA affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.