By Haley France StarNews Correspondent
Looking off the porch of Topsail Beach Skating Rink, you see a beach town. But you also see history.
To the right sits a tower once used to observe missile tests following World War II. In the distance lies a building with a rounded roof that housed a skating rink and arcade until 1961. And, between the two, is a convenience store owned by the same family since 1948 with the owner still living upstairs.
Turning back inside Topsail Skating Rink, you’re surrounded by a similar sense of history. Original maple floors coat the rink, and music spanning the 40s-80s fills the air. A wooden die from the 80s used in a nightly game has corners so rounded it has a hard time slowing down. And a post, worn by 55 years of skaters bumping into it, looks like a beaver had a quick bite.
Not too long ago, Hurricane Florence threatened this history.
“That’s the first time the skating rink in that building has ever been damaged, in all the years we’ve been open,” owner Doris Jenkins said.
For this family business founded 55 years ago, that’s no small feat. The downstairs post office, which Jenkins also owns and operates, was completely gutted and total repairs for the building reached $137,000 according to her nephew, Dan Arnold.
The island itself faced major erosion along its shore and additional damages due to the storm. Local officials estimated over $10 million in construction repairs for Topsail Island.
“It’s been a long, real hard road,” Jenkins said. “Everybody’s worked their self to death this winter and spring, and they’re still working.”
But the community came together for this family business in the form of a GoFundMe campaign that raised about $27,000 and a group of volunteers and family members who helped clean and rebuild.
Arnold tries to look on the bright side of the storm, saying, “At least the water washed everything out, so there’s no dust in here right now. It [looks] kinda like it was when they built it in ’64.”
Back in business for the season, the skating rink is filled with its usual crowd: locals and tourists who have been coming back for generations.
Glenn Batts and his nephew Kenny are two of those locals from neighboring Surf City who take the term “regulars” to the next level. Five or six nights a week, they pick up their skates that are stored behind the counter and circle the rink for hours.
In contrast, there are families like Tim Beck’s, who visit Topsail Island annually from Fuquay-Varina and still receive a Christmas card from Jenkins.
Jenkins, who is 81 years old, doesn’t run the counter as often as she once did, playing her 45s and taking her white skates for a spin. However, she visits from time to time and still manages the post office every day.
“She says she’ll never retire,” Arnold said of his aunt. “She wants to stay right near her house, stay right here at the beach and keep doing what she can do as long as she can do it.”
Two years ago, she broke her elbow while skating. Combine that with cancer treatments, and she’s has had to take a step back from the business that she and her late husband founded all those years ago. However, family members such as Arnold have stepped up.
Every morning, Arnold drives the half hour from Jacksonville to Holly Ridge and fills his minivan with mail for Surf City and Topsail Island. Every afternoon, he reverses the route to deliver the outgoing mail back to Holly Ridge. Then, every evening during the rink’s season, he returns to open and manage the roller rink with his wife or one of his daughters from 7-10 p.m.
Minus the commute from Jacksonville, this was Jenkins’ daily routine until not that long ago.
“I don’t know how she’s done it,” Arnold said. “Until she broke her arm, she was doing that every single day.”
Downstairs, Postmaster Jenkins continues to sort mail and greet customers from 9-3 p.m. on weekdays and 9-11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The concrete floor and baseboards are still awaiting repair after Hurricane Florence, but, otherwise, operations have returned to normal.
“I go every day unless I got a doctor’s appointment,” Jenkins said.
And, even at those doctor’s appointments, her reputation within the community follows her.
“Everybody calls me the skate lady if they can’t remember my name – even the doctors,” she said laughing.
Jenkins hopes that she’ll be back in the rink by the end of the season. For her, skating has been a hobby since the ’50s and one that she doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon.
Until then, she’ll keep running the post office and keeping careful watch over the remaining hurricane damage repairs. This skating rink has weathered 55 years worth of storms, and continues to be a steady part of both Jenkins’ life and the island’s.
“I don’t worry about nothing else when I got my skates on,” Jenkins said. “I don’t have my mind on pay this bill, pay that bill, do this tomorrow, do that next week – I’m there skating and that’s all I’m doing.”