Bradenton's Astro Skate rekindles seniors' fond memories

vmannix@bradenton.comJuly 25, 2013 


The senior citizens roller skated round and round to the nostalgic sounds of big band music as organist Jack Greer played favorites such as "Summertime," "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You."

Some held hands.

Some swayed their hips.

Some held out their arms like airplanes.

Virtually all of them were smiling, which happens regularly every Wednesday morning when the Manatee Skaters gather at Astro Skate & Fun Center, 3611 Third St. W.

"We all get the sense of what it used to be like to skate when we were kids," said Cecile Rapoza, 73.

"It makes you feel alive," said Lois Watson, 74.

"It keeps you young," said Greer, 73.

About 20 skaters enjoyed Wednesday morning's roller skating reverie, 2.5 hours of cha-chas, foxtrots, polkas, waltzes and camaraderie.

"It's just like ballroom dance -- ballroom on roller skates," said Greer, a champion skater.

Good exercise, for sure.

"Good for balance. Good for posture," said Ken Gavins, 88.

"Good for keeping these wheels turning, too," said his wife, Sybil, tapping her temple.

An eclectic background typifies all these ageless roller skaters.

At World War II's end, Gavins, a native of Doncaster, England, joined the crew of the HMS Sheffield, a warship renowned for its part in the epic 1941 sinking of the German dreadnought Bismarck.

He made his first roller skates in 1947 from wooden wheels and boxing boots and became a champion speed skater in Canada.

"I still have them and I'm thinking about bronzing them," Gavins joked.

Barbara Heintz still uses the roller skates she received from her parents in Chicago.

She was 15 then.

She's 69 now, yet carries on despite two knee replacements and one new hip.

"I used to be able to skate backward, but I can't anymore," Heintz said. "At least I'm skating."

Those words resonated with Watson, who remembers first roller skating as a teenager in a rink in Lewistown, Pa., and rekindling that passion later in life.

"I worked hard at trying to learn dance skating in my 40s and wish I could do now what I could then," the great-grandmother said. "I still surprise myself."

Rapoza, a champion skater, was 8 when she began roller skating in New Bedford, Mass., a thriving whaling town in the 1800s.

"Other kids would go to the movies, but we'd go to the rink," she said. "It was fun and inexpensive. Most of us have those kind of memories."

Dale Long does.

The Korean War veteran and retired teacher was up to some mischief as a grade schooler in Warsaw, Ind., when he was caught by a school official.

The man owned a skating rink and made an offer no child could refuse.

"He said, 'You can skate for free and I'll provide the skates,'" said Long, 81. "It was the best deal I ever had in my life."

Then he hurried back onto the Astro Skate rink.

"They're playing my song," Long said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix


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