As Times Change, Seniors Skate On

seniors enjoy roller skating
Skaters enjoy the organ music on Tuesday nights at the Montvale roller rink.

Tuesday night is a special night at the Montvale, N.J., roller rink, drawing a hearty band of devout skaters of a certain, older age. Not the coldest winter night nor many a mile — not even a hip replacement — can stop these intrepid skaters from making their wheels go 'round.

"That's what happens when skating is in your blood — you can't get it out no matter how old you are," longtime skater Bob told Sunday Morning correspondent Bill Geist.

"Snow, sleet, rain — we're here," another skater, Franny, said. "All the time it's like in your blood, it's like you gotta be here."

As they shed their heavy winter coats and lace up the skates, they also seem to shed the years.

"I would bet that I have at least five thousand miles on 'em since I've owned 'em," Bob said. "This pair cost me $150 when I bought 'em, but this goes back to the forties."

Tuesday night is organ night at the rink when the arena takes on the aura of yesteryear.

"I love the organ music," Bob said. "If they put on a disc or tape I don't like to skate to that."

"Oh, we love it," Franny said. "We go over, we say, 'Play this for us.'"

Her favorite, she said is "The Stripper."

Skaters of all ages are welcome, but the organ seems to at once repel the young while attracting seniors — seniors who grew up in the '40s and '50s. Back then skating was big. It's gone through a number of interesting permutations over the years, but this group wants none of that. They want to waltz and foxtrot or just sail along, smoothly and silently, gliding in harmony with the mellifluous music.

Bob, 81, is here as always with his wife, Caroline. They met here at the rink after their spouses passed away.

"Well, I met my first wife in the skating rink and that was 46 years, and she passed on and I decided to come back to skating again. I come up here and I met Carol," he said. "We got together and the next thing you know we felt like getting married, so we got married."

Al and Grace met at a skating rink in Washington, D.C., when Al was in the service.

"We met there and two weeks later we got married," Grace said. "My mother said it wouldn't last two weeks!"

"If my kids did that," she added, "I would kill them."

But that was 1944, and the marriage seems to be working out OK. Al will be 90 this month.

Dewey, 86, can still keep up with young skaters not half his age, going forwards or backwards. Betty is here, thank goodness; she brings the cake. It's really more of a skating fellowship. They celebrate holidays like Halloween, birthdays and the births of great-grandchildren. They mourn the passing of fellow skaters with flowers and cards.

The ranks of skaters (and rinks) are diminishing, and the Montvale rink is scheduled to close.

"I've been coming here since 1964," Franny said. "Every week we used to come five nights a week. The only night we didn't skate was Monday night 'cause there were no rinks open."

Closing the rink seems to be the only thing that can stop their wheels turning.

"I would still be here 'til we can't, 'til I can't walk on 'em anymore," Bob said.

But for the moment, they aren't really into the whole melancholy, reminiscing thing. They're here to skate.