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Frank Gray

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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
To celebrate Marg Wall’s 90th birthday, Roller Dome North will have free skating Saturday night.

Rink queen keeps on rolling

More than half a century ago, Marg Wall sat down and wrote a list of rules that people had to follow if they wanted to skate at her roller rink, now called Roller Dome North, which she and her husband had built in 1950 in a cornfield at what is now Coliseum Boulevard and Lima Road.

The rules covered dress code and a code of conduct. They were designed to make the roller rink a clean and safe environment, and if you broke the rules you would incur Wall’s wrath.

That same basic set of rules, with only a few changes, are still in use at the two Roller Domes in Fort Wayne, and they have been adopted at other roller rinks all over the country.

The rules have worked well.

“We don’t have a lot of problems,” Wall said. “They know the mean old lady is still there.”

The Roller Dome North is a landmark. Practically anyone who has lived in Fort Wayne has skated there at least once. Somehow, though, one loses sight of the fact that the roller rink is now 62 years old, making it one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the city.

And people might not realize that the mean old lady, Wall, has been there the whole time. She turns 90 next week, but she still runs the place, often showing up seven days a week.

To mark the milestone – her 90th birthday, not the mere 62 years she has worked there – her family has planned a celebration for invited guests on Friday. On Saturday, they’ll have a free skate, open to the public from 7:30 to 11 p.m. at the Roller Dome North, so people who have skated there during the past six decades can relive some of their memories.

Lots of people must have memories. Lots of people talk about how they met their spouses at the roller rink.

Others remember how tight a ship Wall ran. It wasn’t uncommon, says her son, Kim Wall, for her to tell a girl to button up her blouse or for her husband to tell a kid in a muscle shirt that he had to get another shirt. It was supposed to be a family atmosphere.

The rink at one point forbade guys with long hair, and there were no exceptions. One of Wall’s own sons – the one who organized the birthday celebration, by the way – wasn’t allowed into the roller rink because he had long hair.

The long-hair policy got the Roller Dome sued twice, but it won both times.

Wall never put up with any guff from employees, either. “She’d ask, do you want a job or do you want to work? Millions of people want a job, but not that many want to work,” Kim Wall said.

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment is that the business has thrived all these years, weathering changing trends and waxing and waning traffic.

The business seems to run in seven-year cycles, Wall said. Skating is popular mostly among younger people, and when one group ages out, he said, you’ve got to start over and rebuild a new clientele.

The Walls were innovative in an attempt to bring in more skaters. They introduced the all-day skate, where parents could drop off kids at 9 and they’d skate until 5. They were baby sitters, Kim Wall says.

The free skate planned for Saturday is another first. But don’t expect it to be repeated for a long, long time.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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