Empire Roller Rink puts its skates up for the last time
COLUMBIA - Hundreds of skaters came out to the Empire Roller Rink for one last skate Sunday.
After 80 years, the rink is closing and its owner, Willie Trent, is retiring.
"It's bitter sweet, of course; but, I made a lot of people happy," Trent said. "I served my time. I gave a good 80 years, so I think I did my share and for all the families and all the young kids and skaters, I think I did a good thing."
It was an emotional night for those who stopped by to say goodbye to the rink. Some skaters have been coming to the rink since they were young.
"I've been coming here since I was four, and so this is like my second home," Ceejae Hart, an Empire Roller Rink volunteer, said.
Both of her parents worked at the rink. Her father, Shannon Hart, introduced her to skating.
"I've been skating since I was five," Shannon Hart said. "I grew up on them and got her into skating and we just love skating together."
Trent said the rink was packed all week. People skated the night away while singing along to their favorite music throwbacks. One skater even managed to pull off a marriage proposal.
Jesse Miller asked Katelyn Schenewerk to marry him in the middle of the rink, while the song "Cross My Heart" by George Strait played in the background. The two skaters met at the rink 13 years ago.
"I wanted to ask her to marry me here and this was the last day — so it's closing — so I had to go for it," Miller said.
He gave her an engagement ring he made himself.
"Got it made in like two days and ready to go," he said.
Schenewerk said she didn't see it coming.
"He got down on one knee and I'm like 'What are you doing?' and he pulled out the ring and I'm looking at it, and I'm like 'Are you serious?' because it doesn't look real," Schenewerk said. "It's just wow."
While some might be skating for the first time, others have been skating at the rink their whole lives. Gary Devore started skating when he was a baby.
"I guess I got fussy or something and my mom and dad were skating and Willie picks me up and puts me in a little red Flyer wagon and pulls me around the rink," Devore said. "I was like 8 days old."
For Devore, and many others, the rink is like a second home.
"It's kind of upsetting because I spent a lot of years," Devore said. "A lot of years and a lot of friends. I've met a lot of friends here just because of skating."
After decades of running the family business, Trent said his final goodbye to his loyal customers and friends.
"I just want to thank them," Trent said. "Thanks for all the friendships and all the fun. The memories are so wonderful. If I start talking about that, I'll cry."
Trent sold the building to Show-Me Central Habitat for Humanity. Not only was this Columbia's only roller rink, but it was also the only one in Boone County. The closest rink is in Jefferson City.