East Texas businessman restoring community skating rink

CBS19 News at 10 p.m. - June 22, 2017

GILMER - While roller rinks have faded away in many places, that's hardly the case in the small town of Gilmer.

I think the skating rink is coming back, and I'm going to do my part to make sure it happens," said John Allen.

Allen, a businessman who lives in the Harmony area, has fond childhood memories of laps around the hardwood. As his own children spent time at the Gilmer Skateplex, saw its potential.

He located the owners and ended up buying the rink on U.S. 271 South.

"You hear the stories," Allen said. "You hear them everyday, what the rink has meant to the community."

Those tales are familiar to Bill and Virginia Dean, who opened the Starplex in 1964 -- filling a void in Gilmer.

"I mentioned us building this rink, and [Bill] jumped right on it," she said. "He's the one that built the rink."

In the years to come, they watched their kids and grandkids take laps around the wood floor laid by Mr. Dean himself.

"Our oldest grandchild learned how to skate when he was 18 months old," she said.

Though initially hesitant when offered a chance to sell the rink, Mr Dean, now age 91 and his wife, 86, decided it was time to retire.

"We hate to see it go, but we think it's a blessing that [John] wanted to get it," said Mrs. Dean

Though Allen is implementing change, he said the rink will hold onto its original character.

"It's extremely important to keep the historical significance and knowing this place is going to be here for generations to come," he said.

Since he took over, the original floor was resurfaced along with other structural repairs. Work is also underway on building additions.

Skaters will soon find a new snack bar, party room and rental area at the rink.

The Deans stop by several times a week to watch the transformation.

"The other day I was walking outside when they were working on the building and the Deans were out here watching everything and looking," Allen recalled. "I sat there and watched them. They were hand in hand as they were watching the building and for me that meant everything -- giving them the opportunity to see this place come to life again and reach a new generation of skaters. That moment was priceless."

Allen said his primary goal is to simply provide a fun, safe place for kids in his small town.

"I'm not going to get rich; that's not my intention here," he said. "My intention is to give the kids something to do and give them a place to go on the weekends to be entertained."

"I hope they keep coming, coming back," said Mrs. Dean

Allen hopes the renovations and additions will be ready for a grand opening on July 4th. That is 53 years to the day the rink opened its doors for the first time.

The rink is open in the meantime. Click here for more information

© 2017 KYTX-TV


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