All roads led to Ossian
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Rollerskating was life from 1944 to 1979
All roads led to Ossian
By Rich Holm
An obituary of a man from Fredericksburg recently appeared in a newspaper. It read in part, “One of his joys in life was going rollerskating in Ossian at Art’s Roller Rink.”
That’s how important rollerskating was to people of that era who want it mentioned again on the day they are laid to rest.
It was a time when skating was a way of life from 1944 to 1979. It was a time when all roads led to Ossian, when one of the community’s pioneers, Art Hemesath, saw skating as a way to have fun.
Art was born and raised in Ossian, just like his six children, Cliff, Rick, Ronnie, Arlinda, LuAnn, and Rodney.
The Hemesath family is part of Ossian lore, from its Sunrise Dairy to the polka band Art played in and to the steel building construction business Art founded.
Everywhere a person goes in Ossian, from its churches, to its Knights of Columbus Hall, to its schools, day-care center, to its parks and retirement homes, Art Hemesath has helped make life better in the community.
If the city had constructed a sign leading into the town in the 1950s, it would have read, “Welcome to Ossian, Home of Art’s Roller Rink.”
Carloads of skaters, young and old, came from Calmar, Ft. Atkinson, Spillville, St. Lucas, Clermont, Elgin, Frankville, Eldorado, Hawkeye, Monona, Castalia, Fredericksburg, Waukon, Decorah, and West Union. Even skaters from southern Minnesota towns would cross the state border to come to Ossian.
Many boys would hold hands with a girl for the first time while skating. Some would later date and some would even marry, as they recalled the time they met at Art’s Roller Rink.
People would come to listen to the latest in music, from polkas, to fox trots, to rock-‘n’-roll. They would learn how to do the two-step on skates, and some learned how to skate backwards.
Boys loved to play “crack the whip,” and on occasion Art would have to blow his whistle and set the boys down for a while as the lad on the end went crashing into the wall.
Skaters would do the bell trio, and sometimes Art would have the girls skate one way and the boys in the opposite direction.
When Chubby Checker recorded “Limbo Rock,” the limbo bar became popular as everyone lined up to see “how low they could go” before bowing out of the contest.
Everyone who skated has a story, including four West Union lads. When they were teens, they would lace up their skates in West Union and would skate all the way to Ossian on the blacktop, finding a ride back home when the rink would close.
Every night ended with the “Grand March” as couples would go through a series of moves before saying goodnight until the next time.
Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays were open skating times. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays were reserved for private parties. Area schools would bring students to Ossian to skate as part of field trips.
Art had an auction house, and the rink would be used to sell items on Saturday nights.
Once a month the rink would be home for a “teen hop” as KOEL’s Jack Mihall would play his records to the delight of boys and girls.
Art Hemesath is now 89. In his living room he has an old, framed black and white photo of a bunch of people skating outdoors on a portable rink constructed on his dad’s farm outside of Ossian.
A note on the photo reads, “Art’s Roller Rink, August 15, 1944, tent blew off, skating must go on!”
Art recalled those times, saying, “My dad, Henry, died when I was 17. My mother was Elvina (Scheidel) and we were farmers. We started the Sunrise Dairy and delivered bottled milk to all of Ossian.
“On the bottles was printed ‘A.A. Hemesath,’ which was me and my brother Al. I dropped out of school in ninth grade in order to go to work.”
Art traveled to Mason City to purchase the portable rink, and it was an immediate hit. People paid 50 cents to skate, and business was good.
Construction on Art’s Roller Rink began in the fall of 1947. The first night of skating was May 9, 1948.
The rink was filled with 200 to 250 skaters each night. Almost every adult alive today in northeast Iowa can say, “Oh, yeah, I skated at Art’s once upon a time.”
Art’s Roller Rink is now only a memory. Art sold it in 1970, but it continued to operate until later in the decade when the Iowa Department of Transportation needed the land to widen Highway 52.
The rink was torn down without any fanfare. One day it was there, and the next day it was gone. Life had changed.
But to anyone who skated at Art’s Roller Rink, the old place and its smooth wooden floor will never be forgotten, and neither will the man with a smile and whistle around his neck, Art Hemesath.
He loved children and to see the fun they had when they skated. They later became parents as generations of families traveled to Ossian to stop at the rink and say, “I’ll take a size 9” and hand Art their 50 cents.
Someday somebody might stop at the former Hemesath farm outside of town and place a stake and sign in the ground where Art’s Roller Rink used to stand.
The sign would remind them of an innocent time in life when shoe skates provided so much fun in the lives of so many people when all roads led to Ossian.