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Still Skating
Photo: Hemera
Akrove was marking his 96th birthday at the place where he can be found almost every day.

After the cake-cutting ceremony, when the lights had dimmed in the blue, yellow, and orange globes overhead, he eagerly rejoined the circling skaters, all in their 70s and 80s. Birthday celebrations are great, but skating is a daily celebration. At least 50 seniors gather several times each week at the Saints North Inline and Roller Skating Center in Maplewood, Minnesota. They chat, joke, celebrate birthdays and accomplishments, confide, console—and, of course, skate.

Some have skated together for years, ever since they were children.

Some show off fancy moves such as the Dutch Roll. But in general, most simply enjoy wheeling around the rink by themselves or in couples or threesomes.

Organ music, polkas, and big band tunes are favorites for this crowd, many of whom treasure “our song,” which may have been popular decades ago. Darreld Johnson, 68, and his wife, Jackie, 70, are among those who favor the golden oldies.

The skaters have their own DJ every Wednesday night. Steven Spector grew up with the group. His father ran the Coliseum in St. Paul during the 1930s—a popular and affordable (25 cents a night) venue for skaters. Elsie Vannelli, 84, a skilled skater, is the Friday morning DJ for the seniors.

Rollers and Oatmeal

These men and women aren’t new to the sport. Skrove put on his first pair of skates in 1927 and has visited a rink at least twice a week ever since. He has lifetime memberships at several skating clubs in Minnesota and Iowa.

Jerry builds his own skates and has gone through “two shoeboxes of rollers in the process.” He’s not alone in skate shoe design. Joe Garber, “one of our younger guys, at 73,” converted his favorite Oxford shoes—the type he’d worn since age 18—into skating shoes.

Garber’s history is extensive. He skated as a performer, part of a troupe of five skaters in the 1950s who pocketed $5 per show and $1 for gas money.

Like Garber, Skrove claims roller-skating as his primary interest. Many question: At his age, shouldn’t he be taking it easy? Absolutely not! His family agrees with his choice. Adopted daughter, Carol Schwie, is convinced that the exercise/fun regime is keeping him healthy. She has the numbers to prove it; his cholesterol is “way down” and heartbeat “normal.” Skrove says “Carol not only calls me every day to see if I am OK; she even picks out my clothes!”

Jerry has never had surgery or, for that matter, been in a hospital. “The doctors have never seen anything like it,” he says proudly.

He’s happy to share one of his healthful-living secrets: boiled oatmeal every morning. There is one irritant in his life he admits. At 92 “they took away my driver’s license.” But a friend picks him up for skating sessions. For short errands he uses a scooter.

Faith and Farm

A lifelong Lutheran, Jerry is grateful that a friend takes him to church services “to worship my Lord.” In his mind, faith and fitness go hand-in-hand.

He feels that his present lifestyle, centered around roller-skating, is a logical outcome of years of work. “You just don’t turn it off,” he declares, referring to the energy required to run his own corn picker over 100 acres of cornfields, or operate a feeder-cattle business. “I was my own welder, too,” he adds.

His work experience enlivens the conversation at Saints North. Very little chitchat is about medical problems; in fact, that subject is low on the agenda. Conversations mostly center on current activities with an occasional reference to the past. This is a group that doesn’t categorize by age. Your are what you can do. And excuses are frowned on.

Skrove’s biggest concern is why there isn’t more emphasis and programs on roller-skating aimed at youngsters “to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.” “Roller-skating,” he says, “prepares young people for active and enjoyable later years.”

But enough chitchat. It’s time to skate!

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By Irene Clepper. Reprinted with persmission from Vibrant Life, September/October 2006. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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