Willie Trent, Class of 1961
Kewpie of the Month, Sept/Oct 2018

from the

Story by by Elza Goodlow and pictures by Phu Nguyen of the Columbia Missourian

For 80 years, the Trent family has owned the Empire Roller Rink on Business Loop 70.

Willie Trent runs the roller skating venue, succeeding his parents, Frank and Arvilla Trent who opened it in 1938 and managed the rink for 25 years.

When Trent's father died of cancer in 1946,  his mother took over the skating rink and operated it until she died in 1963. Trent then began operations when he was 19.

In 2000, when the original rink was demolished to build a new one at the same location, an updated apartment was included in the design. He also owns a farm near Columbia, where he spends part of his time.

Depending on the day, Trent can be found changing lightbulbs, running the concession stand or supervising public skate sessions. He primarily spends his days in the office, making sure the bills are paid and the seven part-time employees receive their checks. 

At 74, Trent still manages to skate almost every week with a group of roller hockey players. Since 1957, the roller rink has fielded a team at the annual national tournament held by the USA Confederation of Roller Skating.

His roller hockey teams have won national championships for their division every year from 1998 to 2000. The group didn't compete again until 2013, when they won their division's national championship again. The average skater on the 2013 team was 55,  and Trent is the only continuous member of the team since its start.

The Empire Roller Rink also sponsors an artistic skate team, which is like figure skating with roller skates. Trent's 23-year-old daughter, Emma, is a national champion artistic skater who has been competing since 2009. Since her debut, she has won awards in figure skating, solo dance and team dance performances.

"She's been in skates since she could walk," Trent said. "All of our kids and grandkids were. That tends to happen when you own a roller rink."

 In over the half a century he's been at the helm of the rink, Trent has collected a multitude of stories. One of his fondest memories involved a little girl and her skates. 

"This little girl was tying up her skates, and I noticed she had them on the wrong feet, so I said 'Miss you have your skates on the wrong feet.' She looked down at them and said, 'But these are the only feet I got.' I always liked that story," Trent said.

His wife, Lisa, said her husband is important to many children in the community.

"When I met him, I had no clue that he was so important to people in the town," she said. "We have all these kids come in and all of them will say "Hi Willie!" as they are passing by."

Trent said he doesn't want to do the job forever and said his three kids aren't interested in stepping into his shoes. But, he said if someone wants to buy it and still run it as a roller rink, he wouldn't be opposed.

"My kids do not want to run the roller rink, and I'm 74," he said. "I don't want to do it if I'm 85 or 90. So if someone comes in and buys it and wants to still run it as a roller rink I would do that."

Yet, he speaks fondly of his time as owner: "I've had a wonderful adventure," he said.

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