02/05/2015 01:49 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT

Gordie Howe's trip to Saskatoon Kinsmen Dinner a tribute to humble beginnings

While Gordie Howe rose to hockey stardom, gaining fame and fortune, he never forgot his humble beginnings in Saskatoon.

The 86-year-old has proven that once again by travelling from Texas to Saskatoon, despite his ongoing recovery from a series of strokes. Howe will attend the Kinsmen Sports Celebrity Dinner Friday night to raise money for community programs.

In the 1930s, the Howe family struggled just to feed Gordie and his eight brothers and sisters. He got his hockey start with donated equipment in a free community hockey league.

Today, kids at Howe's old school, King George Community School, play in a similar league now run by the Kinsmen Club. It pays for equipment, transportation, and ice time for 250 kids from 16 community schools. The league runs about 10 weeks.

"This was his beginning," Bruce Bradshaw, Superintendent of Education for Saskatoon Public Schools, said. "Community hockey that ran in Saskatoon in the 30s through 70s is where all the young boys learned to play hockey. Now it's boys and girls doing the same kind of thing."

In the school basement, Dustin Millar hauls out hockey bags for his Grade 6 and 7 students. The teacher and volunteer coach demonstrates how to put on shin pads and find a helmet that fits. 

Millar said it's unlikely that a community league would groom a NHL star nowadays. The Kinsmen kids can't compete with players who are on-ice all winter and whose parents pay hundreds — even thousands — of dollars for equipment and registration.

That's not the point.

A life lesson from Gordie Howe

The volunteer coaches said this experience helps ingrain the same characteristics that Gordie Howe is also famous for.

"He played hard all the time. He was not only a scorer, but he stood up for his teammates," Millar said. "For a lot of kids, this is their one and only team and that really brings out things in them that had not come out before. And there may not be a lot more teams in their life, so this will be something they remember forever."

The King George students strap on donated skates at recess and pile onto the outdoor rink in the school yard. As they do so, they can look up the street and see the green house where Howe grew up in.

That community connection has made Howe a role model.

"He's really inspired me to achieve my dreams," 12​-year-old Karly Lauzon said.

"We have Mr. Hockey to back us up," chimed in Breanna Roberts, 13.

Jasper Schroell said he's learned to be a leader, just like Howe. "I'm told to be one of the people that other kids look up to, and I'm supposed to lead them the right way."

Howe's homecoming amazes

The teachers and coaches at King George were all surprised to learn that Howe, given his recent health problems, was still honouring his commitment to the Kinsmen Club dinner. Howe underwent stem cell treatment in Mexico in December  2014 and his son Murray Howe told CBC News that his father's recovery has been a "miracle."

The KHL manager, Bob Fawcett, insists Howe's homecoming is just one more example of Mr. Hockey's determination and willingness to give back to the community.

"I think that's a good message to these kids," Fawcett said. "You go out, do the best you can, and don't forget where you came from."