Skating for Others

Working together, skaters and rink owners have raised millions of dollars for a number of causes. These include disabled veterans in the 1940s, polio in the 1940s and 50s, heart disease in the 1960s and 1980s, and muscular dystrophy in the 1970s and 80s. And these were not the only charities skating supported.

Help Me Walk Again: Skating Against Polio

In severe cases, if polio didn’t kill its victim, never damaged resulted in mobility impairments and difficulty breathing. President Franklin Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938 (later called “The March of Dimes”) to fund research into preventing and treating polio. As polio epidemics worsened across the 1940s and 1950s, skaters responded eagerly to the organization’s fundraising appeals.

The Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA) rinks joined the effort in 1943 using skating parties, donation cans, admission surcharges, and skate-a-thons. The next year, the RSROA presented the first Grand Roller Skating Charity Show in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Hundreds of skaters performed before thousands of fans and RSRO collected $10,000 to fight polio (that’s over 154,000 today). The show was repeated in 1945 and 1946 (right), and rinks across the country began to produce annual shows of their own.

Skating continued to support the March of Dimes even after vacccines brought polio under control by the late 1950s, but skating philanthropy gradually shifted to other causes.

Massive skating shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City raised thousands for the March of Dimes in 1944, 1945, and 1946.

(Left) As early as 1946, rinks and skaters were teaming up to buy and donate lifesaving polio treatment machines like respirators and rocking beds to local hospitals. This photo from 1951 shows RSROA President Fred Martin at the Arena Gardens in Detroit Michigan, presenting an “iron lung” raspatory therapy device his skaters had purchased.

Skaters across the country soon began to produce benefit shows of their own (below, left). A show by junior skaters at Warnoco Roller Rink, Greely, Colorado, 1951. (below center) “Darin Pat” Morris jumps barrels at a polio benefit show at the Fourth Avenue Roller Rink in Louisville, Kentucky in 1952. (below, right) The Singing and Skating Cowgirl, Janice Hoover, performed at a fundraiser at Wayne Fuller’s Pony Express Roller Rink in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1953.

(above) Therapists touted skating as an effective therapy for polio victims working to regan motor function. This photo shows Benije Hill skating for therapy at North St. Mary’s Rink in San Antonio, Texas, in 1951.

Supporting Vision-Impaired Skaters, 1949

Many rinks across the country opened their doors to visually impaired skaters, providing human and other guides like special ropes or railings to help skaters navigate the rink until they felt comfortable enough to skate on their own.

Skating So Others May Walk: Fighting Muscular Dystrophy

In 1972, the RSROA board endorsed the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) as an official charity. Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic disease. Over time, muscles grow weak and atrophy, making it hard to walk and do other activities. Drawing on the same slogan used in the fight against polio in the 1940s and ‘50s, RSROA chose “Skating So Others May Walk” as the slogan for its MDA activities.

Roller Skating’s contributions to MDA were enormous and often well over the $1 million mark. In both 1977 and 1980, roller skaters’ contributions topped $2 million. Many rinks were also the number one contributor to their local MDA fundraisers. In 1975, only two other sponsors raided over $1 million.

(left) Buttons given to skaters participating in MDA skate-a-thons.

The most successful and popular fundraiser was the skate-a-thon. Skate-a-thon skaters secured pledges for every hour or mile they skated. By 1975, some individual skaters were raising $500, which would be $2,500 today. In 1979, skaters at Skateland of the Valley in Harlingen, MacAllen, and Brownsville, Texas, raised nearly $50,000 during their skate-a-thon. Today that would be a quarter million dollars

(below) Entertainer Jerry Lewis hosted MDA’s annual Labor Day telethon from 1966 to 2010. The show dominated the television airways during Labor Day weekend, being broadcast up to twenty-one hours. Television publicity during the telethon may have been the best media exposure roller skating has ever had. In this photo, Annelle Anderson, then president of the RSROA, talks with Jerry Lewis during the 1985 telethon.

In 1975, skating was featured on the telethon’s national feed ten times for a total of thirty minutes. This was in addition to skaters appearing all over the country on their local TV stations during their breaks. This local exposure was valuable advertising. (below) RSROA rink operators, Michael and Darcy Fleming and several skaters speak with Jerry Lewis on national television.

In 1960, RSROA proclaimed February 8 through 14 as “National Roller Rink Week for the Heart Fund” of the American Heart Association. For the next few years, many local rinks crowned a “Queen of Hearts” who earned their title by selling the most tickets and securing the most solicitations for their rink’s heart fund skating event. Skating renewed its connection with the Heart Association around 1980. The partnership worked to the advantage of both organizations. RSROA endorsed skate-a-thons to raised funds for the AHA who in turn prepared an education packet that endorsed roller skating as an activity that supports cardiovascular health and physical fitness for all ages. This is something skaters havelong known.

Though RSROA rinks raised nearly $800,000 between 1981 and 1984, like with the MDA, the 1980s saw a decline in dollars raised for charities. Even so, the American Heart Association continued to have a relationship with roller skating and was instrumental in promoting National Roller Skating Week. The end to this era of national fundraising came about for a number of reasons. The skating community is still heavily involved in fundraising, but the emphasis today is on local charities.

National Museum of Roller Skating Audio Tour - Museum Proper
  1. The First Roller Skates
  2. Patented Roller Skates
  3. The Father of the Modern Roller Skating
  4. Rinking
  5. The "Newest" Craze
  6. The Disco Era
  7. Pop Culture! Skating in Lines: Roller Skating and Comics
  8. Pop Culture! Orchestras, Organs, & Disco: Music in the Rink
  9. Pop Culture! Movies: Roller Skating Across the Silver Screen
  10. Competition: The History of Hockey on Wheels
  11. Competition - Speed Skating
  12. Competition - Dance Skating
  13. Competition - Figure Skating
  14. Competition - Derby
  15. C. W. Lowe's Tent Rink
  16. When Skating Goes to War
  17. Skating for Others
  18. Roller Skating Car Hops
  19. Jam Skating
  20. Extravaganza on Wheels: The Skating Vanities
  21. Vaudeville