Frances Knab is 49. As a wife and mother of two sons, her interest in the sports boarding culture predates her involvement with the Alix Rice Peace Park Foundation. The foundation was created to celebrate the life of Rice, the 18-year-old long boarder from Amherst who was killed in a July 2011 accident involving a drunk driver.
As an officer for the foundation, Knab has been a driving force in the effort to build the 10,000-square-foot memorial skatepark. As a paralegal, she helped to draft the proposal for the skatepark that will be located on a parcel of land near the Northtown Center at Amherst.
Knab and her husband, Robert – who owns Phatman Boardshop in Tonawanda – live in Getzville. They have two sons: Rob, 17, and Frank, 22, an accomplished snowboarder who lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
On June 7, skatepark supporters will gather at a fundraising chicken barbecue from 4 to 7 p.m. at Amherst Lutheran Church, 5125 Main St., Williamsville. For more information on the barbecue and the skatepark memorial project visit www.alixrice.com.
People Talk: What made you think you could pull this off?
Frances Knab: There are no skateparks in Amherst. The father of Gregory Holler built his concrete skatepark – from start to finish – in six months in Tonawanda. That was unbelievable. The City of Buffalo just put a Skate Plaza near LaSalle Park. They pushed for that for more than eight years. And then there is Xtreme Wheels on Hertel Avenue, which is indoor. There is also a skatepark in Lockport, but it’s not concrete. It’s a wooden structure. In Amherst we have enough soccer and football fields. Why can’t we put one little skatepark in the Town of Amherst?
PT: Did you have much opposition?
FK: Not necessarily opposition; we needed to educate. It was a learning experience. The board members did not understand about skateboarding. It is not a crime to skateboard.
PT: What motivated you?
FK: One of the main reasons for doing this is that my two boys and my husband have such a love of skateboarding, so I said why not send a letter to the Town of Amherst proposing a skatepark? I sent a letter to the recreation department about six months prior to Alix’s death. Then I was approached about Alix’s mom joining in the effort for a skatepark in Amherst.
PT: Why don’t skateboarders get respect?
FK: I think it’s the public view that they’re troublemakers. You’ll see several signs that businesses post saying: “No skateboarding allowed.” People automatically think boarders are doing something wrong. In my opinion, it’s because they don’t really have a place to skate. You will see them skating at ECC in places that are thought to be unsafe. Or they may be seen as damaging the property because they’re looking for a place to skate.
PT: Wasn’t Amherst a tough nut to crack?
FK: It was. The process has been very challenging, but with the support of the Alix Rice Peace Park Foundation and the recreation department, we were able in February to gain the approval of the Amherst Town Board.
PT: What step is next?
FK: Formulating a user agreement between the foundation and town on the running of the park, which will be located at one of two sites in Amherst at the Northtowns skating center. The user agreement is about rules and regulations, like wearing helmets.
PT: How daunting a task is fundraising?
FK: We’ve had a lot of community support. For example, we have donations of cement. Brian Duff, an announcer for the Buffalo Sabres, is a vocal supporter of the skatepark. Through several different events we’ve been able to get to this $80,000 mark. Our goal is $250,000. We weren’t able to pursue grants until we had the commitment for the land, which is the user agreement. Grants are very difficult to apply for. We are currently looking for a grant writer.
PT: Why is it so important not to forget Alix?
FK: She was a woman who, in my opinion, died too young. She was 18 and had a free spirit with her longboarding. Her last board she actually named Rupert. The one that was damaged in the accident my husband restored for her. Now her mom rides it. Alix’s story shouldn’t be remembered for an accident. It should be a celebration of her life, and her youth.