I recently saw a television commercial advertising a roller rink in the Chicago area. Against all odds, it wanted people to know you can still go to the roller rink for an evening of family fun.
Believe it or not, roller skating was quite the thing to do at one time. Everyone had a pair of roller skates, usually the kind the clamped on to your shoes, tightened by a skate key often worn around your neck on a piece of yarn or string.
Everyone seemed to have a drawer full of skate keys which didn’t belong to any skates. If you were lucky you had a pair of shoe-style skates.
If you didn’t skate on the sidewalk, you went to Millbridge Roller Rink across the bridge from Riverside at 8027 Ogden Ave. in Lyons. The rink was owned by the Fonter family.
Jachim “Jokes” Fonter in 1930 bought the site of a former Hudson car dealership and built the rink, which opened in 1936. The rink was family affair, with Jokes, his wife Mary and their parents all working there.
Most memorable character at the rink was a man known as “Red” because of his red hair, which I believe was really a toupee. He served as the “bouncer,” keeping everybody in line or helping you up if you fell. He always wore a suit and skated backwards.
Children who had birthday parties at the rink were subject to the rules, and it was not unusual for the guest of honor to serve time in the penalty box courtesy of Red. Organ music played and a sign indicated whether the rink was restricted to couples only, ladies only or “all skate.” I was more comfortable with the all skate.
On Saturdays our parents would drop us off at Millbridge, where we met our friends, had a snack and got picked back up after a few hours, tired and with maybe with a few bruises or two, but looking forward to doing it again.
Fonter separated from his first wife and remarried. The couple lived above the rink. Parkinson disease took its toll on Jokes and interest in skating waned, so in 1992 he closed the business and put the building up for sale. A fire in 1993 destroyed the building which had been uninsured. Fonter died in 1997, ending the Millbridge era.
Last time I skated? I was teaching at Mater Christi School and we took the eighth-grade class to a rink in Melrose Park. Yes, I took a few turns around the rink and am here to talk about it. All skate!