Skating through the past: 'Rink rats' reconnect through social networkWORTHINGTON — When Mavis Walbran began to read the comments that had been posted on the Silver Skate Reunion Facebook site, she got a bit choked up. “It just overwhelmed me,” she said. “Actually, I was in tears when I read it all.” The Walbran family — Mavis and her ex-husband Bob and their children, Pat and Brenda — owned and operated the Silver Skate roller skating rink in Worthington from 1977 to 1985. The Facebook site was started as a way for people who used to hang out there to reconnect. One of the social networking participants shared the link with Brenda, who passed it along to her mother.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — When Mavis Walbran began to read the comments that had been posted on the Silver Skate Reunion Facebook site, she got a bit choked up.
“It just overwhelmed me,” she said. “Actually, I was in tears when I read it all.”
The Walbran family — Mavis and her ex-husband Bob and their children, Pat and Brenda — owned and operated the Silver Skate roller skating rink in Worthington from 1977 to 1985. The Facebook site was started as a way for people who used to hang out there to reconnect. One of the social networking participants shared the link with Brenda, who passed it along to her mother.
“I go in there every now and then, go over it again,” Mavis said about the comments posted on Facebook, adding that at the time the Silver Skate was open, she figured the kids thought of her as a “witch,” as she enforced the rules of the rink.
But the memories shared online are overwhelmingly positive about the rink and its owners.
A rink is born
Building a skating rink was not the Walbrans’ original plan.
“We sold our farms out by Fulda and went to northern Minnesota, were going to buy land out that way, but it was blizzarding and cold the day we went up there, so we came back and decided we were going to build a skating rink,” recalled Mavis, who now lives in Marshall and continues to work in customer service for Schwan’s.
As a youngster herself, Mavis used to come up from her home in Sibley, Iowa, to skate at a rink on Oxford Street, which had long been closed when they opened the Silver Skate.
“We had enjoyed skating, and there wasn’t anything in Worthington much for the kids to do,” she explained.
So they erected a building on Rowe Avenue, installing the rink, disco lights and ball and a concession area, and named it the Silver Skate.
For seven and a half years, the Walbrans provided a place for “rink rats” to hang out, get their exercise on wheels and strut their stuff to the latest music.
“We’d run 300 to 400 kids on a Friday night. That’s a lot of kids. Friday night was open skate, Saturday night was age 13 and up, Tuesday and Thursday night were private skating parties, Saturday mornings were for birthday parties with the younger kids,” Mavis detailed about the schedule. “It was $1.75 to get in and skate, $1 if you had your own skates.”
The Walbrans kept a close eye on their young patrons, especially when the lights went down for the spotlight dances and some of the couples would sneak down a side aisle to gain some privacy. Mavis quickly routed the kids out of there, and for the most part, the skaters knew the rules and stuck to them.
“They knew what was expected of them, and most of them respected that,” she said. “We had a few incidents. On Halloween, we were having a Halloween party, and one of the kids said so-and-so had some eggs in his pocket and was going to go into the bathroom and egg the bathroom. The kid we had playing music that night … he said, ‘Mavis, let me handle this,’ and he followed the kid into the bathroom and went up to him and hit him in both pockets and smashed the eggs.
“We had the Silver Skate for seven and a half years, and there was never any writing in the bathrooms, and that said a lot for the kids,” Mavis added. “I tell you what, I would still put up with 300 kids over 30 adults.”
The Walbrans eventually sold the rink on contract for deed and moved to Marshall, where they ran a cleaning and dry-cleaning service that Brenda and her family have now taken over. The first buyers couldn’t make a go of the skating rink, so the Walbrans got the business back and sold it again. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of the bank and may have operated for a while under a different name, Mavis noted.
Bob and Mavis were divorced, and Bob and son Pat now both live in Tennessee.
One of the kids that Mavis regularly “put up with” at the Silver Skate was Jayme Paulus Wickman, the originator of the Silver Skate Reunion Facebook site.
“It started out with the group of people I hung out there with, from 1979 to 1980, and that was fun, but it grew from there, and we had people joining who came after us, who we have no idea who they even are,” explained Wickman, a stay-at-home mom who lives in St. Michael. “The icing on the cake was when I found Mavis and Brenda Walbran.”
Wickman grew up in Fulda and had her first experience at the Silver Skate when she was in the sixth grade and planned a birthday party there. After that, she became a regular.
“Usually Saturday night for sure, sometimes Friday night and Saturday,” Wickman said. “My parents trusted that when I walked through the door, I was under Mavis’ control, and they knew Mavis controlled the ranks. … If you left there, you weren’t coming back in, and once you were in there, you went by her rules, because that’s what she said. It seemed dumb at the time, but now that I’m a 45-year-old mom, I understand.”
Mavis admits that she and Bob ran a tight ship, and their children helped out by taking admission and working the concession stand.
“Pat did a lot of skate guarding and played music,” Mavis noted. “Brenda, when we first started, she was like a fourth-grader, and we had to have one of those old wooden Coke cases tipped upside down so she could stand on it and help people in the concession stand.”
The Walbrans also employed teens to do skate guard duty and run the DJ booth.
“I was the DJ for many years,” recalled 1979 Worthington High School graduate Mitch Marcotte during some online reminiscences. “Thus the name Disco Mitch. I made $10 a night.”
“Everybody had a crush on Mitch,” said Wickman. “Of course, we were in junior high, so we had a crush on anybody who was cute and somewhat adult.”
The Silver Skate also offered skating lessons, and Mike Winter, a 1983 WHS graduate, secured his first job as a skating instructor when he was in the eighth grade.
“Bob was funny, and Mavis ruled the ship,” he said “She was like a mother to everybody. And then I started as a skate guard. She called me because she needed somebody to work a church group, and then at the end of the night, she told me she got a bunch of compliments and wanted to hire me as a skate guard. From that moment on, I went to the roller rink almost every night for the next three years.”
Now president of Worthington Ag Parts and living in Maple Grove, Winter remembers his teaching and guarding days at the Silver Skate fondly.
“I enjoyed the kids, and my parents enjoyed that I got a job there, and they saved money because I got to skate for free,” he said. “Mavis babysat 200 kids every Friday and Saturday and kept us out of trouble. It gave us a place to go, plus it was good exercise. The Silver Skate made a positive lasting impression on everybody who spent time there.”
Rolling into the present
Wickman recently tried — unsuccessfully — to relive her glory days on the skating rink.
“I took my 16-year-old daughter skating up here in the Twin Cities,” she shared. “She loves to skate, and said, ‘C’mon, Mom.’ In my head I know how, so I put the skates on, and I must have fallen five or six times before I realized my body’s not cooperating with what my brain knows. … It is not like riding a bike.”
Winter, however, was able to impress his teen-age daughters with his talents on wheels, although he has always shunned the now more popular in-line skates.
“My kids were amazed that I could still skate when I took them,” he said. “I think I was better on skates that I was on my own feet.”
Mavis looks back at the time she her family ran the Silver Skate as one of the best times of her life.
“Of all my jobs, it was very rewarding,” she reflected. “We used to take the Silver Skate van to parades, load it up with kids, and they would roller skate through the parade in the various towns around Worthington. We used to have a Silver Skate king and queen, prince and princess, have a special show around Easter with different skates and skaters. Those were good, fun days.”
Some of the participants in the Silver Skate Reunion Facebook site had tried to schedule an actual reunion yet this summer, but so far those plans “have fizzled,” according to Wickman. But Mavis hopes they still find a way to get together and continue the effort that has been started on the Internet.
“I had no idea it meant that much to those kids,” she said about the Silver Skate. “They had to bond together a lot back then in order to bring them back together now.”