The blue pair of child-size Reeboks on a set of wheels is not only well-worn but community-worn.
“Half the town of Tioga has worn them,” says Debora Clark, pulling the skates from a shelf of other rentals. She explains that Francis Murphy, who died in November of last year, made the skates, and that they were often the go-to pair for young beginners.
And that’s not all that Francis gave to his community. The building that houses the Tioga Roller Skating Rink is owned by the Tioga Grange. Francis had been very involved with Grange on the state and local level since he was a young man, and was especially interested in helping the young people of the community get involved with Grange. Known officially as The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Grange is a fraternal organization, founded after the Civil War, that encourages family-based promotion of the economic and political well-being of communities and agriculture. In a nutshell, it’s neighbors helping each other, and that was Francis.
Debora is one of several active Tioga Grange members who, over the years and along with Francis, has kept the Grange and the Tioga Roller Skating Rink alive, and she can’t credit him or the community enough.
“It’s amazing to see the community come together,” she says. She goes on to explain that the rink opened in 1960 as a fundraiser for the Tioga Grange, and, from the beginning, “it was his baby.” Francis never married, had no children of his own, but “he was all about kids,” Debora continues, adding “I think every kid in town has been here. He was everybody’s babysitter.” Francis gave skate lessons, his mom ran the snack bar, and it was his own sound system that provided the skating soundtrack. When he was sick and in the hospital last fall, that system caught on fire. Since then, a couple of local DJs have stepped in, loaning a sound system and providing the CDs that help make skating around and around on that wooden floor so magical.
That wooden floor, however, is part and parcel of an old building, one that needs upgrades and work (read money) if it is to remain a usable and viable member of the community. And what a shame it would be if that were not the case.
“There is so much history in this building,” Debora says, pointing to the old signs (many penned or purchased by Francis, like the “Fast Skating Not Allowed” sign, and left hanging in his honor) and the variety of other memorabilia both upstairs and down. There is a collection of vaudeville tickets, mementos from a time that the train stopped here and the acts that were aboard would give a performance or two. There is a stage that still gets periodic use and still sports artwork and props from years ago. Upstairs there is a kitchen, and the big room with the unique “floating floor” (it’s great for dancing, Debora notes) that can be rented for receptions, birthday parties, and the like, including the popular-these-days “princess parties” for little girls, and “superhero parties” for little boys. Another upstairs room is the temporary home for the old movie projection equipment Francis purchased years ago from the Twain Theatre in Mansfield. There is also a wealth of county Grange records here, Debora continues, some dating back to the late 1800s, and plans for a Grange museum.
“There are people who come in and say it’s like walking into the past, and we intend to keep it that way,” Debora says.
And as Francis Murphy was community-minded, so are the folks who are carrying on his work here. There are the necessary fundraisers and work-bees for the building, which resulted in a new roof last year.
“The heating system is what we’re working on now,” says Debora. “The biggest help is Hall’s Home and Lumber. We call and say ‘we have a problem’ and they say ‘we’ll be there.’”
However, nobody has lost sight of the Grange’s mission. There are karate lessons here on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the facility rental charge is minimal so that community members can afford to let their kids participate. Junior Grange members serve as “party hosts” on the weekends when the building is rented for birthday parties. Saturday nights are community fund- raising skate nights, with local food pantries and Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries being two of the most recent beneficiaries.
“The Grange and skating rink, they’re one, they’re Francis,” says Debora. “We thank Francis every day for doing so much for the town. He was very involved with Tioga Old Home Day. He was always a part of the community, but in the background. We all wish Francis was still here to see how many people use his rink.”
Find the Tioga Roller Skating Rink on Facebook for information about skating times, building availability, and ways you might be able to help out “the best small rink by a dam site.”