GREENVILLE — Frankie Sanderson, of Greenville, was the first female floor guard for Hazel and her late husband Harold Mercer, former owners of the Greenville Roller Rink, now The Skate Place.
According to Sanderson, the male floor guard was out of town and Harold had to take some kids to the speed rink.
“He was afraid to leave the rink,” Sanderson said. “Hazel and I looked at him and said, ‘We women can operate this rink just fine’, and it was the biggest weekend we had.”
A night celebrating Hazel took place Wednesday, at the roller rink, with about 200 people showing their gratitude. It seems both Hazel and Harold made quite an impression, living on through generations by the people who knew them. Since about 1969, Hazel and Harold owned the roller rink. Harold passed away in the early 1990s. Hazel, 89, said she has always skated, beginning in metal wheeled skates on the sidewalks near her home. When she grew older, her mother allowed her to take the bus to the rink.
“If you have ever been a skater, and you like it, you’ll always stick with it,” Hazel said.
Jimmy Wentworth, 74, of Greenville still skates. He started in 1948. He, his son, grandson and great-granddaughter all skate at The Skate Place.
“I met my wife here; it’s just a family thing,” he said. “When you get my age, you don’t have any business skating, but I keep going.”
Judy Byers has been skating since the 1950s. She and her family continue skating at The Skate Place.
“I remember when Hazel and Harold came from Cincinnati,” Byers said. “She skated in her beautiful outfit. Back then we danced the two-step, the waltz and the grand march. They don’t do that anymore. The kids skate fast because the music is faster.”
“I have stayed close to those kids over the years,” Hazel said. “When we had the speed team (which Harold started), the kids were very close to one-another. They got out there and were pretty bad at first, and I knew they would get better. Then Greenville started winning, and we had some at the Nationals.”
Susie George of Greenville said her youngest son Travis was the first three-year-old skater at The Skate Place, and the youngest, at age 5, to be on the speed team. In 1978, both of her sons went to Lincoln, Nebraska for Nationals.
“Hazel and Harold were the best things since Post Toasties,” George said. “I worked a lot and didn’t worry about my kids when they were here, because Hazel and Harold were kind, considerate and loving people. Harold nicknamed Travis “tadpole.”
Alishia Funk and her dad Alan Leonard took ownership of The Skate Place August 1. Leonard also owns Skate World of Kettering. Funk said she has known Hazel her whole life, as Funk started skating at age 3, in 1983. She then worked at The Skate Place in 1994, until she graduated in 1998. She left to work at other rinks owned by her family. Harold was her speed skating coach.
“Skating was my life,” Funk said. “Harold and Hazel took me all over this country – the Carolinas, Florida, Tennessee and all over the Great Lakes Region. And Harold always made sure we could skate. If my mom couldn’t afford my skating, he made payment arrangements; not for just me, but for literally hundreds of kids. I made lifelong friendships that kept me out of trouble, and the same for my dad. If it weren’t for them, our lives would have been very different. Harold was a world-class coach, and produced national champions out of this little rink in Greenville. This is a big deal, celebrating Hazel, and showing thanks for the years and years of providing a safe place for kids to go.”
During the party, Leonard opened up the floor allowing folks to make comments to Hazel.
“Doesn’t she look good?” he asked. “I just wanted to say, how grateful and appreciative we are for all the years that you and Harold owned the rink – and you alone for a long, long time. You can see by all the people that are here how much you touched and affected everyone’s lives. For me, I don’t know what I would have done without the rink and Hazel. Between the lessons, the speed meets and all the money you and Harold spent on the rink – it is amazing. Hazel, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Leonard is asking that folks donate memorabilia to The Skate Rink, to keep the memories alive.
The Skate Place is open Friday nights: 6:30-9 p.m.; Saturday: 1-3:30 p.m., 7:30-10 p.m. and 10-midnight; Sunday afternoons: 1-3:30 p.m., when parents skate free with their children. All sessions are $5.50, accept for Saturday night, which is $7 for first session and $9 for both sessions. For more information, visit www.greenvilleskateplace.com, facebook.com/Greenville Skate Place, or call 937-548-6606.
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