On the morning of her 62nd birthday, Dottie Stevens’ family asked how she’d like to celebrate.
The longtime Greenport resident thought for a moment before recalling the day offered a long lost opportunity in her community.
“I want to go roller skating,” she told them.
She wasn’t alone.
The Burton Potter American Legion Post 185 reopened for its first public skating session in more than a decade Sunday and nearly 150 community members returned to the Third Street building. For some, it was the first time they’d ever laced up skates. For others, it was an afternoon of memories flooding back.
Perhaps no one has spent more time on the rink than 82-year-old Bumpy Grilli of Greenport. An instructor there since 1952, he returned to work Sunday to find the “ambience of a roller rink” doesn’t change.
This is the second major renovation Grilli has seen at the American Legion after it burned down in a fire the year he started working there. The post was rebuilt the following year and it remained in operation until 2007.
In 2011, restoration efforts began again, thanks in large part to the late George Costello, a Vietnam veteran and longtime member of the post. The renovations hit a snag after the building suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
In an interview earlier that year, Mr. Costello told The Suffolk Times he was “looking forward to seeing hundreds of little kids roller skating, just as I did.” While he didn’t live to see the work complete, those kids skated on a rink named for him Sunday.
For longtime rink staffers like Grilli and Chatty Allen those “kids” were the sons and daughters — and in some cases grandchildren — of past skaters.
“Some of them were coming up to me saying ‘I don’t know if I remember how [to skate],” Allen said. “I told them ‘It will come right back to you.'”
That was certainly the case for Riverhead’s Louise Wilkinson, who remarked that she remembered visiting decades ago and could be found circling the rink for nearly the full three hours it was open Sunday.
Of course, in classic roller rink fashion, everyone had to clear the floor a couple times for special skates, like the men’s-and ladies-only sessions DJ Tim Mason called out as Grilli manually adjusted the classic sign on the wall to signal the changes.
For most of the three hours, though, the rink was filled with families rolling to classic skating jams like “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and more recent hits like “Happy.” And the smiles continued into the early evening. Even as the little ones wiped out, they picked themselves up, dusted off and kept the wheels spinning.
“I love teaching the young kids to skate,” Grilli said. “I missed that.”
American Legion general manager Mindy Ryan said the rink’s next public skate will be held this Sunday, March 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 with skate rentals costing an additional $5.
The Legion is also hosting a fundraiser Friday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m. with live music from The HooDo Loungers and sketch comedy. Tickets are $25.
Ryan said the skating hours will be set on a weekly basis to allow for other community events — and private events like weddings — to take place at the hall.
On opening day, however, it was all about local families having fun — and there was no bigger party present than the Stevens clan.
Dotty celebrated her birthday at the rink with seven of her children and three grandchildren. Like with so many others skating Sunday, it was a trip back in time in their hometown.
“First there was the Porters [basketball team] winning [the regional championship Saturday],” Stevens said. “The community is so excited about that. And now we have our roller rink back. These are the types of things that make this place great.”