Good things come to those who skate: Couples have old Nisswa roller rink to thank for relationships

Many current and former lakes area residents remember the Nisswa Rollarena as a popular teen hangout in the 1970s and '80s.

Nisswa Rollarena
The Nisswa Rollarena sat on County Highway 77 from 1975 to sometime in the early- to mid-1980s and served as the backdrop for many romantic encounters between teenagers and young adults. Photo courtesy of the Nisswa Area Historical Society

Lon and Tammy Schmidt have been married for nearly 40 years.

Jim and Kayleen Meyer have been married for more than 40 years, as have Jaime and Patti McDonald.

Along with their decades-long marriages, the three couples have another thing in common. They have the old Nisswa Rollarena to thank, in part, for their relationships.

Lon Schmidt was working as the manager from 1979-81 when his co-worker at the snack bar insisted he meet her sister.

“She kept saying, ‘You ought to meet my sister. And I went, ‘Oh, well, I’ll meet her someday,’” Schmidt said. “Well, then she brought her sister in, and we started dating, and you know, ran over a few rough spots while we were dating but got married, and this October it’ll be 40 years together.”


Jim Meyer took Kayleen to the popular hangout for their first date in December of 1975. It was a perfect choice for some wholesome fun and was “the” place to be for high school kids.

Meyer remembers there was plenty of snow on that winter night, creating the perfect backdrop for the high school sweethearts.

“After skating, we shared our first kiss next to a snowbank at the edge of the parking lot,” Meyer said in a Facebook message.

Jamie McDonald worked as a skate guard — keeping the place safe and secure — and as an assistant manager, while his soon-to-be-wife Patti worked at the snack bar. Both took turns dressing up as clowns named Rollarena Ron and Rhonda for kids’ birthday parties. Even though they shared a clown costume, they didn’t know one another right away.

They finally met officially on Jaime’s birthday in early 1977 and were married later that year.

When Jaime, who was in charge of scheduling, called Patti into his office near the end of their shift one night and asked what she was doing on Sunday, she thought he was going to ask her to pick up an extra shift, responding with something along the lines of, “Why? What do you want?”

“I almost walked away,” Jaime recalled with a chuckle during a phone interview Friday, Feb. 12.

But he plucked up the courage to ask the question Patti wasn’t expecting: “We both don’t work (Sunday). Do you want to go out?”


And her short response of, “Oh, sure,” solidified their relationship. Forty-three years later and the rest, as they say, is history for the Merrifield couple.

The McDonalds not only share their origin story with the Schmidts and Meyers but also with Patti’s parents, who met at a roller skating rink in St. Louis Park.

“That was always kind of cool we shared the same thing in common,” she said.

Patti and Jaime McDonald
Patti and Jaime McDonald of Merrifield met in 1977 while working at the Nisswa Rollarena. They have been married for 43 years and are just one of many couples who have the old roller skating rink to thank for their relationship. Submitted Photo

A blast from the past

Oct. 2, 1975 saw the grand opening of the Nisswa Rollarena on County Highway 77.

It was the height of disco fever, the era of frayed bell bottoms and leather vests, and roller skating rinks were all the rage. High school students who grew up in the area at the time knew it was the popular hangout on Friday and Saturday nights.

All-night skates offered the ideal setting for romantic episodes.


“Hormones were just flying around like crazy,” said Schmidt, who was 25 when he started as manager.. “... There was a lot of romantic things going on there, and it was actually kind of fun to see these young people holding hands for the first time and skating and all.”

He recalls an instance when he was out skating around the rink himself and caught sight of a pile of coats that seemed to be moving around.

“So I had to break up a little romantic interlude there,” he said.

Whoever the couple was, they weren’t the only ones to make use of outerwear as a cover for their shenanigans. Most of those who remember spending time at the Nisswa Rollarena, like Michael Mcfarland, remember how the coats were used as buffers.

“As kids that were looking to have a little bit of fun, we would go back in there and have the coats on the rack and hide behind there and have some fun,” said Mcfarland, who frequented the roller rink when he was in high school.

“I definitely got my first there, my first date, everything there,” he added. “... It was just a really fun place for kids to go, and as long as you weren’t doing anything too wrong, you could have fun.”

Barbara Schroeder had her first kiss on the benches behind the coats at the roller rink as well. She even recalls the DJ having a little fun of his own by putting the spotlight on her and her date.

Iris Danowit worked at the rink’s snack bar in high school and remembers the constant hope she would run into her crush there.


“Back in the day, the biggest thing, too, was getting to waltz,” she said. “That was really big if you wanted to be with a guy or a girl.”

Schmidt taught waltzing at the rink for a time, working with couples who wanted to perfect their moves.

“As far as jobs go, it was probably the most fun job I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

Gone but not forgotten

“There were a lot of meetings, a lot of kissing in the corners, a lot of boyfriends and girlfriends that came out of friendships there,” Danowit said. “And I know for a fact that a lot of people were very disappointed when it was closed down.”

The Nisswa Rollarena succumbed to fire sometime around the early- to mid-80s but will forever live on in the minds of those, like Jaime and Patti McDonald, who have special ties to the place. Though they weren’t one of the behind-the-coats couples, they’ll always remember the Nisswa Rollarena fondly and for one reason in particular.

“People were like family there,” Jaime said.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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