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Indiana University Oral History Research Center
Interviewed by Robin Henry ~ 17 February 2001
This interview was conducted by Robin Henry for the Oral History Research Center as part of an oral history project on the Roller Skating Association. The transcript has been edited by the Oral History Research Center's staff and by the Interviewee. Changes are indicated in brackets. [note: corrections sent by Robert Bollinger were not made]
The reader should bear in mind the fact that this material is a verbatim transcription of an interview, not a written document. Very few persons speak with the precision with which they write. We have done our best to make the transcript easily readable, while remaining faithful to the tape recording.
Full name, when, where you were born.
R: Full name, Robert Bollinger
All right - How did you first become involved with roller skating?
R: Well, I was born at The Oaks Park, I got involved because it was right here at home. As time went on, I became the rink manager in 1925 and so forth.
Wow, so it has been a part of your whole life?
R: Been in it all my life.
Wow, all right - Now did you initially become association with RSROA/RSA?
R: Well, the rinks around the area here were close and some of the RSROA officials were located in Seattle. Pop Brown and Weston Betts had rinks in the area and were officers in the RSROA, so they invited me to join. [note: I joined in early 1938] I, being an interested party in roller skating, thought I could learn something by joining and I did. It was very good to be a member of the organization. By being a member, I was able to get into other rinks and shake other owners' hands and say, "How do you do this?" or, "What happened here?" and so forth. It was great to keep abreast of things and get information that was good in carrying on business.
All Right - Please tell me about your rolls/ work in the RSROA/RSA from the first involvement to the present.
R: Well, I was a member of first Skate Dance Committee. The committee was the start of designating dances for skating that would be used for competition and skill tests. it also assisted in the promotion of skate dancing. From there, I went on to hold several offices in the Association. These included Chairman of the finance Committee (a very great honor). When I was President, we moved the office from Detroit to Lincoln, NE.
I am also one of the founding Trustees of the National Roller Skating Museum. That is how I got started here on this one (referring to The Oaks Museum) which I patterned pretty much like the National Museum. They had their 20th Anniversary.
Probably my greatest accomplishment was when I helped put the Association in the black. This was accomplished by getting more members and so forth - it is a great organization with a lot of dedicated people in it.
How were you personally involved in the roller skating programs? Please describe your activities that you think are significant challenges and improve their skating skills.
R: Well, I followed some of the Nationally sponsored programs that the Association sponsored for rinks to adopt and use. I would pick those that were applicable to The Oaks and they all helped. We had competition skating, skate dance programs and, in general, good skating.
What would you characterize as being the most significant contribution that you personally made to the advancement of roller skating?
R: Well, number one, I provided a safe place for families to skate and educated them about the pipe organ and so forth. In addition, I created a private non-profit organization to perpetuate The Oaks and keep the rink open to the public six days a week.
As a sport, I strived to keep the skating activity available to the public. While providing tests and competition. The tests and competition are used as enticement for the skater to increase their desire to skate more, thus increasing session attendance.
The process of educating the skater to dance music - mainly organ - seemed to be successful as it made The Oaks the oldest continuously operating rink in the United States. It opened May 30, 1905.
My dad started working there in 1904. Throughout the years, he grew in job responsibilities and, in 1925, he was able to buy the operating company. Then in 1943, I helped him buy the 44 acres the park was located on. We had a big flood in 1948 and my dad passed away in 1949. I then bought the park from his second wife.
What is your favorite memory / experience from your career in roller skating?
R: Well, I guess that was when the Nationals were held in Portland in 1963. Skaters from all over the United States came to skate here. This was the first National meet in Portland. It was one of the first conventions held out West and held in the big coliseum.
Prior years Nationals were always held in the East. While contestants were attending events, some of their cars were broken into. Costumes and skating equipment were taken. We had the National Chicago Skate Agency at The Oaks, so I got skates to replace ones that had been stolen. Costumes were supplied from the Oaks Club from their shows (Oaks skaters used to give skating shows similar to the Roller Follies). The Sewers and Doers, a group of skating mothers, modified the costumes for the skaters who lost theirs.
Please list the five individuals whom you feel had the most influence on the development of roller skating as a business or sport. Please describe why they are important.
R: Well, there have been a lot of people involved in roller skating through the years. To pick just five is very hard. I think your other interviewees had a hard time deciding who was who.
Yes, they did.
R: I think I date back so far that I look on those who were instrumental in forming and guiding the new association. There were eleven or thirteen men who started the organization.
Vic Brown was one of these. he was a little dinosaur and power house that pushed and enlarged the Association to cover the entire United States.
Fred Bergin was a musician and he made great strides toward arranging the music to work with the skaters so they could skate to it.
The third was Fred Martin he was the work house behind the Association.
The fourth was man by the name of Chuck Cahill. He guided the Association into a group effort and helped it grow to about one thousand members. He was a good informer and guided the Association in the conventions and so forth.
And, of course James Plimpton. He was the man who invented the modern day quad skate. Without him, why we wouldn't have anything. He was an inventor who developed heart [note: original document had "hart"] problems. His doctor suggested that he skate for the health of his heart. Skating was easy in the winter as the lake froze over; however, in the summer he turned to roller skates. At that time, the wheels were in a straight line and caused many injuries. He set about creating a skate that could be controlled and lessen the injuries to participants. His quad skate moved skating from the sidewalks to the rinks. That was quite a while ago.
In your opinion, what were some of the most influential events that took place in the roller skating world - either good or bad - that significantly affected the state of roller skating today? Please describe how these events were important.
R: Well, I think probably there was when there were two skating organizations offering dance skating and competitive programs. They competed with each other and that wasn't good as there were two sets of rules and two championships. Finally, they managed to merge. From that point there were able to have world competition but it was divided by Europe, working as one group, and the United States, the other group. Next came competition between those.
How did the RSA deal with those events? How might RSA have addressed those events differently to enhance the advantage of minimize the adverse effects?
R: Well, merging of the two American Association was difficult as rules and operations of each varied. The American and European organizations have started sharing thoughts, In the past, the European competition didn't allow any input from the United States.
What do you think are the greatest failings of the public image of roller skating? Why:" How would you suggest this image to be improved?
R: Well, it seems to me like session roller skating is kind of losing its bloom. Like, its not the thing to do. At The Oaks, I had live organ music. It seemed to be a good tool for crowd control as the organist would work with the floor management team. If the skaters were becoming disorderly, the organist was signaled and more mellow songs were played. the skaters did not seem to notice the change in the music, but it sure helped the floor management team lessens the danger of injury.
What do you believe are the greatest assets of roller skating? Why? How would you suggest these assets be exploited for greater public awareness and future growth?
R: The greatest asset, in my opinion, is giving families a place where they can enjoy a sport together. When skaters learned to appreciate skating music (especially the organ) and understood there was something more to skating than just gong round and round, they became skating families for life.
Early in my rink managing career, I learned the rink management has a duty to educate the skaters and that skaters enjoy a challenge. I met this educational need by providing demonstrations to the general public by the more skilled skaters. Those demonstrations started a desire in those watching to learn and skate more. As the session skater learned and used skills, mothers learned from them (much the same as the domino effect). After a time, the demonstrations were no longer needed. Of course, I made lesson and practice times available for those yearning to learn more; however, I catered to the session skater as they were the ones I could depend on to return year after year and bring their children and their children's children, etcetera.
What future do you foresee for roller skating?
R: The sad loss of appreciation of organ music and the art of session skating.
Is there anything you would like to address or add that I have not asked about?
R: I just feel that the family should be educated to be more interested in roller skating and that it is great. Roller skating has been my life all these years...
[END OF INTERVIEW]