Mitchell's roller-skating culture vanished after 1985 fire
Shawn Petersen can still remember the schedule of The Rink, from Monday’s private party night to the open skate nights on Saturdays and Sundays.
“We were there pretty much every minute they were open,” Petersen said of the popular roller skating rink, arcade and social spot that was located about six blocks north of the Corn Palace on Mitchell’s Main Street.
“I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Roller skating was a widespread pastime in the 1980s across the country, and South Dakota was no different. Petersen was part of what he described as a roller skating culture in the 1980s, made up of a tight-knit community of people who shared a love of skating. But Mitchell’s last roller skating rink burned down in 1985, and other smalltown rinks have slowly shuttered, leaving few left in South Dakota.
According to a Daily Republic article, The Rink burned down in a late-night fire on Jan. 30, 1985. The fire was so severe that more men and trucks were called in from Letcher, Mount Vernon and Plankinton, according to the article, and the building eventually collapsed. No one was injured.
Tonya Stroud said she remembers the fire, seeing the smoke and the flames swallow up one of her favorite places on a cold and windy night.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” she said.
For the people who participated in the sport, the lure was simple: It was fun. And now, nearly 30 years later, it’s a fading symbol of the vastly different world in which they grew up.
“It was just an icon of my time. It was where we went to see our friends and listen to music,” said Sheila Hanmore. “And it was an important part of my life back then.”
Hanmore now lives in Spring, Texas, but grew up in Mitchell and graduated from Mitchell High School in 1986. Like other regulars of the building, she remembers the games played at the rink, couples events, and that The Rink sold pom-pom style accessories people could put on their skates.
Stroud, of Mitchell, laughed as she remembered sneaking quarters from her mom to play pinball at The Rink with a boy. She can still describe the interior of the building, which “smelled like a concession stand” and boasted an arcade, seating area and, of course, a skating floor. There was a disco ball hung from the ceiling, and popular music played.
“Roger always played good music,” Stroud said, referring to owner Roger Sackreiter.
She had a pair of black suede skates she was proud of, which she kept in a locker in the building along with her jacket and hat she wore as an employee. It was all lost in the fire, she said.
Stroud worked as a cashier at The Rink for about nine months, but even after working there she, like Petersen, spent as much of her free time there as she could.
“Whenever it was open, I went,” she said.
Though the sport reached its peak in the 1970s and ’80s, roller skating has been around much longer. According to the National Museum of Roller Skating, based in Lincoln, Neb., the first public roller skating rink was opened in 1866. As the activity reached its peak in popularity, roller skaters were included in the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, which provided for national governing bodies such as USA Roller Sports, and have participated in the Pan Am Games since 1979. Daily Republic archives show roller skating rinks, operating under various names, owners and locations — including the Dreamland Ballroom and Roller Drome — existed in Mitchell from the early 1900s until The Rink’s demise in 1985.
Petersen, who is originally from Mitchell and Huron and now lives in Everly, Iowa, said he started skating when he was 7 or 8 years old. In Mitchell, he said there was a group of 20 to 30 people of all ages, made up of people who worked at the rink and went there, known as the Rink Brats or Brat Pack — a nod to the group of 1980s teenage actors who starred in several coming-of-age films together.
“It was always the same people that went,” Petersen said. “They’re like your second family. You did basically everything with them.”
The 47-year-old recalls the pastime was taking off in popular culture, with movies like “Rollerball” in 1975, “Roller Boogie” in 1979 and “Xanadu” in 1980 all giving ample attention to the activity. Petersen said he still has copies of roller-skating magazines that featured interviews with heavy metal bands, like a roller-skating version of Rolling Stone.
“That was a whole different time,” he said. “That was the best time to grow up as a kid.”
He said the culture extended well beyond the indoor rink. He and others participated in outdoor skating on the tennis courts, roller hockey teams, allnight skates and skates from Mitchell to Sioux Falls for Jerry Lewis Telethons, which raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
And it wasn’t just Mitchell. Petersen said when he and others traveled to skating competitions in Aberdeen, Brookings and even Kansas City, those cities had their own groups, similar to Mitchell’s.
It made for a closely knit yet nationwide community, he said.
“It was a whole other culture. It wasn’t just a building,” he said. “It was like a whole other life when you were there.”
Its fans aren’t sure why the once-popular activity has deteriorated in the last 20 years. Stroud said she’s often wondered if it’s the cost of keeping a rink open.
In Mitchell, prospects for a rebuilt rink after the fire were apparently dashed when Sackreiter, the rink’s owner, was charged with arson in connection with the fire. Daily Republic archives show he was eventually acquitted of the criminal charge, but locals also say Sackreiter and his insurance company ended up in civil litigation.
“A lot of people wanted them to rebuild,” Stroud said. “I still think they should build something like that here in town.”
Petersen said he agrees that the cost is a factor, citing rising insurance and liability costs as people became more “lawsuit happy.”
He suspects dwindling populations in rural areas contributed, and that technology is another culprit.
“They didn’t have all the video games or the Internet back then,” he said. “You went outside and did stuff. Bikes, sledding, skating. Now, kids don’t get out and do anything.”
He and others agree it’s a shame, saying that despite the nostalgia, skating rinks offered a safe, fun place for teenagers to go hang out with their friends, listen to popular music and get in some good exercise.
“I really wish the rinks would have hung on,” Petersen said. “I know both my kids would have loved going. It was just all-around healthy.”