Roller Skating Memories
Thu, 08/31/2023 - 10:51am admin
My first memories of roller-skating, at around age seven in Iowa, are of metal contraptions with steel wheels that clipped on my shoes, and my grandmother explaining the fundamentals. She claimed to have roller-skated as a child. The concrete floor of a single-car garage made a poor venue, and I soon lost interest.
After moving to a Shannon County farm, those clip-on skates had no utility, but Mountain View had an indoor skating rink. The Mizer family had teenagers who allowed their younger sister Judy and me to tag along one Saturday night. I don’t recall much of that skating adventure other than the floor was crowded, and I couldn’t manage to propel myself forward. My feet moved back and forth, but I stayed in one spot. I finally pulled myself forward using the handrail.
The whole experience is dreamlike, now, but I do recall that Mr. Mizer told the teenagers if they were going to go skating on Saturday nights, they couldn’t be too tired to get up for church on Sunday morning. That wasn’t a problem for me, because I never went back.
But other Mountain View and Birch Tree kids continued to skate. Judy Mizer Barnes, a regular on Saturday night recalls: “Good music, couples skating, line skating, cracking the whip, and skating under the bar. The main thing was dodging the little brats that the parents would drop off.”
Of the Mountain View rink, Jeanne Sharp Gaddy says, “I remember it being loud and wild, with boys skating fast and jumping over the rail into the watchers’ area, banging into walls to stop, and chasing girls. It was great!”
My interest in skating returned in 1959, when Hughy (H.G.) and Emmalee Flake, with their daughter Sandy and son Gordon ("Lucky") moved to Willow Springs from Oklahoma. Hughy, still in his early thirties, retired from his oil supply business in Tulsa, only to build and operate a skating rink a few miles west of town on Pine Grove Road. They built a house nearby, which I recently learned from Sandy, was down the road from a farm owned by Oscar Bell, her mother’s dad.
The skating rink was a one-story Quonset hut-style building. Sandy says, “I can remember the men made a form and bent the lumber to make the outer structure.” The skating surface was constructed with sheets of Masonite and surrounded by a handrail.
A lobby stretched across the front, with an L-shaped customer-service counter right of the front entrance, with rows of skates displayed on shelves behind it. Most people rented skates and laced them up sitting at a bench in front of the counter. A juke box sat against the wall at the far end of the skate counter.
The other half of the lobby consisted of a snack bar for purchasing sodas and candy bars; a pinball machine; several more benches for lounging; and two wooden booths. A half-wall separated the lobby from the skating area, and two more half-walls angled across the front corners of the skating floor formed spectator areas. A woodburning stove heated the venue during the cold months.
On Sundays, Hugh and Emmalee drove on the country roads near the skating rink to pick up soda cans that had been carelessly tossed on the roadsides. Now, that’s good stewardship.
Sandy attended the seventh grade at Pine Grove School, but joined my Class of 1965 in the eighth grade and soon became a popular student and cheerleader. Classmate Carol Hale shared she learned do the Twist at a slumber party at Sandy’s home. Not surprisingly, Sandy was a whizbang skater. Nita Ray (WSHS, 1967) remembers watching “Sandy Flake skate like a pro.” Classmate Annette Tetrick recalls being “enthralled with Sandy as she had colored pom-poms on her skates.” By the way, Sandy says, “I still have my skates. I just couldn’t get rid of them.”
Mr. Flakes’s skating rink venture proved to be a popular hangout of local kids. Before I got a driver’s license I spent many weekend nights skating on the packed floor. Jay Blanck, an accomplished skater, served as floor manager and wore a military-style hat and whistle hanging from a lanyard around his neck. Sandy says, he “let the unruly ones know to settle down.”
I was never one of the unruly ones, but Billy Fisk (WSHS, 1963) and I played a game of “chicken” where we would race toward each other down the center of the rink, and just before colliding, we’d spin sideways barely missing each other. We never got whistled. Classmate Jimmy Johnson and I purchased mail-order skates through Mr. Flake and considered buying carrying cases and painting “kamikaze” on the side, but passed on the extra expense.
As images of the skating rink sloshed in my mind, I wondered about the experiences of others and posted a query on the Willow Facebook page. Vicky Cave put it aptly when she described the responses, “Boy you really stirred up some memories, didn't you?” The post generated 91 comments and provided a wealth of information.
Popular songs triggered memories for a bunch of folks. Linda Daly Stutsman says, “So much of the 50’s and 60’s music was played there while skating. So now when we hear that music it brings skating memories back.” I understand. Every time I hear “Hello Walls” sung by Faron Young, I get an instant flashback to the skating rink. Carol Hale has a particular skating rink memory from it. “That song gives me a laugh every time I hear it. I don’t remember who the guy was, but he ran smack into the wall just as ‘Hello Walls’ started playing on the juke box. Not sure he saw the humor, but the rest of us did.”
For Catherine Beavers Weekley, the song was “El Paso” by Marty Robbins. Shawna Burgess recalled “a lot of Neil Diamond songs.” Gina Petrus Daly recalls that “Brandy” by Looking Glass played several times each night, along with Dawn’s “Knock Three Times.” Other favorites mentioned were “These Boots are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra and “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers.
Not all memories related to music. Mickey Perkins posted: “I remember the flashlight dance where the lights turned off and boys would take turns with a flashlight to pick the girl he wanted to skate with.” Annette Tetrick mentioned the challenges of “reverse” skating where everyone had to reverse directions and skate clockwise. Tim James added, “First time I tasted the new soda on the market was at the skating rink. The soda was named Mountain Dew.” Other skating memories included, the Limbo, couples’ dances, crack the whip, dusty floors, and not wearing white pants.
As the saying goes, nothing remains the same. The Flakes moved back to Tulsa in 1963 to resume their plumbing supply business, but several sources indicated the skating rink remained open into the 1970s, operated by Bill and Arlene Almond and also by Larry and Mary Sue Meal.
Pam Coral (WSHS, 1968), who worked part-time for the Almonds in 1966 and 1967 and helped repair damaged Masonite, summed up the value of the skating rink for our generation. “The skating rink was a big influence and [source of] entertainment for the kids from the area towns. Just think of all the mischief we would have gotten into if we didn't have that fun place to be.”
I want to give special thanks to Sandy Flake Fletcher for her time and contributions to this article. Thanks, also, to those who shared memories on Facebook, and to my Mountain View/Birch Tree, go-to sources, Jeanne Sharpe Gaddy and Judy Mizer Barnes.