"This place is exactly the same as it was when I was kid." Connie Markgraf hears that often. As owner of Paducah's Kingsway Skateland, she has seen many changes at the local roller rink. They have been so subtle, however, that to most, Kingsway truly appears the same as it did when it opened in 1973.
January of this year marked the 40th anniversary of the Paducah landmark.
"Skating evolves every few years," she says, "and right now it's in a comeback."
Many find fun in its nostalgia. For most, however, the lure of Kingsway isn't just the skating; it is a rite of passage. The skating rink is one of the first places many kids get to be with peers outside of the school environment. "Many of them are in that pre-driving age, and they can't just go anywhere they want. So we've always tried to create a safe, fun environment where they can hang out."
Connie, whose parents owned a rink in Kansas City, never imagined roller skating becoming such a huge part of her life. But it seemed to be her destiny. Her husband, Tony, worked for Connie's uncle who sold skate supplies. After making several trips to a rink in Cape Girardeau, the owners approached him about opeining a rink in Paducah.
The couple jumped at the offer and quickly became a part of the community. Tony actively promoted skating, even taking skates to Ralph Emery to be used on his show Nashville Now. He also utilized skating to help the community, doing skatathons for Muscular Dystrophy and other causes.
"Tony always knew a lot about popular music!" adds Connie. "The early skating rinks had the organ music, but we went with what was popular at the time. I remember Tony going out and buying the 45s of the top twenty hits of the time. I think the first song we played here was Crocodile Rock by Elton John."
For a period of time, Kingsway had a jukebox. "I remember kids lined up to play that thing," says Sandra. "I can't tell you how many times I heard Another One Bites the Dust and Tainted Love back in the 80s!"
Connie saw the technology move from records to tape to CD and beyond. "Now we are able to buy and download the music. We are careful about what we play because we want it to remain a family-friendly environment, but we stay on top of what's popular!"
For Connie, Kingsway is more than a business, it part of the skating way of life. She still skates nearly every day of the week. "It gets in your blood," she says. And it gets into the fabric of a community. A bulletin board at Kingsways proudly displays photos from years gone by. Above it are three words that seem to say it all: faith, family, friends.