HOBART ARENA: The Early Years 1950-1959


A resident of the Troy, Ohio area

Interview Date: March 12, 2013


Interviewed by: Mike Robinson 

Interviewer’s note: In the preceding issue of The Troy Times, Caroline and her sister, Ruth Kruse Simpson, spoke of their early childhoods and their experiences growing up in Troy, Ohio. Today, Caroline focuses on her first job which put her in the center of all activities in Troy’s new entertainment and sports facility. These early years were the golden age for the arena, with many national celebrities gracing its stage.

When I got out of college and started looking for work (August 1950) the arena was just about to open so I went in and applied for a job and lo and behold I got it! I think every young lady in Troy wanted to work out there but I had a foot in the door and got in. The arena opened in September of 1950 and they brought in a man named Pat Thurkettle from Toledo to run the arena. He brought in some help, of course, - Ken Wilson to take over the hockey team and Bob French who had been the sports editor of the Toledo Blade to take over the publicity part of it because Bob knew about hockey and stuff- nobody here knew anything about hockey.

The first thing, of course, was the Ice Shows the second week of September – Holiday on Ice. People came from all around because the closest arenas were in Cincinnati, Fort Wayne and Toledo- ice shows would come into Columbus but they would just put down a temporary floor at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. So having that in Troy was really exciting for the whole area. We drew eastern Indiana, Columbus, south of Dayton, and up north of Lima- we had quite an area to draw from. We also had wrestling that first fall- it was fun because as I remember wrestling was on Thursday night but on Wednesday, the day before, we would send out mailers telling who had won on Thursday night.

Ken Wilson’s job was to get the hockey team started and he brought in players Keith Tolton was the first coach- he was married to a former ice show skater and they were here for a couple of years but he was only here for the first year. We had a connection with the Boston Bruins- Ken got that- sort of like a farm team but he gathered up all these players from heaven knows where to make up what was called “The Miami Valley Bruins” to start with. Then we had to get people to play so I think we wrote to every town in Ontario that we thought might have a hockey team and bring these kids in to play. Of course, there was a team in Cincinnati but that was a league that was actually above us as we started. The next year we joined the International Hockey League; at the time, the leagues were the National Hockey League, which still exists today, then came the American Hockey League and then we were in the International Hockey League- the third level. Cincinnati’s team was in the American Hockey League and it was always fun to go down there and play them on an Exhibition and they would come up here. Games were usually on Sundays; they would be on Sunday night until after the pro football season was over and then they were on Sunday afternoon. We always did very well; we always had good hockey teams, stayed in the International Hockey League until the end of the hockey operations in 1959. We had a big following, it depended on who you were playing; more often than not, the arena was full for the hockey games.

Of course, there were ice shows every year, Holiday on Ice usually came in the fall and we would have a training show come in later, like “Ice Cycles”, a training show for Ice Capades, once a year. We had a roller skating show come in one year, in the same format an ice show but it was a roller show. We had other entertainment.

Everybody remembers Elvis Presley coming to Troy. They called and wanted to come in for an afternoon and evening performance; the show date was November 24, 1956- and Ken said, “well sure”. At that time Ken Zirkettle only stayed one year and we were on our own, more or less, after that. But by that time, Hobart Brothers had more or less taken over and we had to go through them to get anything done. Ken called over there (Hobart Brothers) and they said, no, they didn’t know about that- he didn’t think that we should do that and so Ken said, “can we rent the arena to them?’ Hobart Brothers said “sure”, so that’s what we did and got things under way. I made a call to Art Caney who was the entertainment editor at the old Journal Herald in Dayton; at that time (1956) you still had to go through operators to make a long-distance call. I called Art and told him what was happening and this operator broke in- I recognized her voice as a girl from my class in school- ELVIS PRESLEY’S COMING!!!

We never spent a penny on advertising (for the Presley show). But when their ad men came in to get things set up, they said, “well, if you want the show, we’ll sell it to you.”

(Meaning the Presley entourage would be paid a lump sum in advance and the local investors assumed the profit potential and financial risks of the performances). Tickets were to be $2.00, all general admission for advanced sales. If tickets remained up to show time, tickets would be $2.50 at the ticket window. Ken said,”yes, we still want to buy the show. Ken, myself, and the gal down in the box office- Roman Burke, she was an old Troy person, we bought that show. We paid them ten thousand dollars, the three of us rented the arena to put the show on; of course, it was sold out before they ever got here, but it was lots of fun doing it. Daddy had to go sign a note for me- I had no money. $3,500, my gosh, at that time, that was a lot of money and I borrowed the money- I made $1,200 in three weeks. That’s MY story of Elvis Presley.

We had lots of other people- Victor Borge, Patti Page, Fred Waring, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Roy Rogers was one of the best guys I ever met because he was scheduled there in November of 1950, the weekend of the big snow- if you were alive in 1950; you remember the big snow. They got stuck in Lima- Roy got here, but his wife, Dale Evans and his horse, Trigger, were stuck in Lima. But Gene Autry came and spent the afternoon with us up in the office- it was fun; he was a really nice guy.

We had midget car races, Liberace; Troy was the center of entertainment because none of the other arenas had been built then. We had the Globetrotters; that was an experience. The first time they came, tickets weren’t selling, and we thought, “Good Lord, what’s happening here, you know. That night when we opened up the doors, they were lined up outside waiting to come. But the best thing that ever happened was Biva Francis, a basketball player from a little college down by Rio Grande, down on the river, and he was about seven feet tall and this little tiny school probably only had a couple hundred kids in it- they were just beating everybody because they’d just go out and Biva would just shoot the basket and they always went in- they were getting all kinds of attention, both locally and nationally, so the publicity director at the time got on it and we got their schedule and they were scheduled to play Cedarville, another little school- at the time, although it’s not small any more. We said, “why don’t you play at the Hobart Arena? Well, it was just mayhem; they came from all over to see that. Life magazine was here to photograph it. However, Cedarville got the ball- rules were a lot different then- they just held it, they wouldn’t play. They just stood there- there are pictures of them just standing there, holding the ball and the referee was pleading with them to play. There were so many people coming upstairs in the press box we chalked off the floor in squares; reporters had their own squares, there were that many of them, forty or fifty reporters up there to watch this game. The place was packed- they were pounding on the doors to the box office wanting their money back- we had to lock them- since Cedarville would not play. Johnny Pounce- the bookkeeper, accountant, pleading with the coaches to get the teams to play basketball; they finally did play, but that was probably the most exciting time we ever had. This happened in 1954, 1955- somewhere in there. His coach had an ice cream stand after he retired over near Lawrenceville and I would stop and see him every now and then, but all that was exciting, yeah.

Sonja Henne was another one I remember coming; her reputation sort of follower her; she was sort of nasty, personally. She liked to be demanding and have her way and so we were prepared for her and that morning when they were coming in, the phone rang and I happened to answer it and it was Miss Henne. She started to complain- the weather had gotten very bad, very cold- it was in May- and I talked back to her. That afternoon, she came out to the office and said, “I want to talk to that lady I talked to this morning.” Let me tell you, we had the nicest conversation, I learned a lot from her, she was really nice and we got along famously. She was already a movie star by this time, Ruthie and I were big fans, she had been the Olympic gold medal winner and she told us about touring after World War II, how she was in Belgium and she had a banana which she gave to a little boy, and he didn’t know what to do with it- he ate the skin and all! She was on the downside of her career by that time and her ice show was not top-rated; still, her name was a definite drawing card.

I worked at the arena until the hockey team left for Greenville, South Carolina in 1959, had gotten married, and it was a good time for me to leave since my first child was born ten days after I left. With Ken Wilson and I leaving about the same time, I was called back periodically to assist the operation as needed from time to time.

(Interviewer’s note: We are grateful to Kathy Slack of The Troy Skating Club for providing the following history of that organization’s partnership with the Hobart Arena since the arena’s very early beginnings, a relationship which endures to this day.)

Hobart Arena was built in 1950 and a family skate group was organized to skate one night a week in 1951. In 1952 separate adult and children’s sessions were organized. The Troy Skating Club became a member club of the United States Figure Skating Association, which is the governing body of figure skating and a member of the International Skating Union (ISU), the body that governs the sport of figure skating and speed skating internationally.

The purpose of the Troy Skating Club was and is to encourage the instruction, practice, tests and advancement of the members in all forms of skating and to encourage and cultivate a spirit of fraternal feeling among ice skaters, to sponsor, produce or cooperate in the production of amateur ice shows and host competitions.

In 1954 the Troy Skating Club produced its first ice show starring Carol (Heiss Jenkins) and Nancy Heiss. The club’s first test session was held in 1954 and lasted two days. Troy Skating Club was encouraged to continue during those years by E.A. Hobart and John Bothe, the latter of whom actively skated.

1958 brought the first Midwestern Championships to Troy. We also held our first summer skating school, which was frequented for many years by skaters from all over the country, being one of the few skating summer schools in the country.

Midwesterns were held again in 1961 and 1970. Also, in that year Frederick C. LeFevre was elected president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. His wife Virginia was a valued World and International judge while son, John, served USFSA as Executive Director. Former Trojan, James Disbrow, served the USFSA as president until his death in 2002. Currently, Kathy Slack of Troy most recently served on the 15 member U.S. Figure Skating Board as Midwest and First Vice President. Slack will also serve as Team Manager for the U.S. Figure Skating Singles and Pairs competitors at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

The first annual Troy Summer Competition was held in 1974 and now holds its annual competition in July each year and Troy Skating Club also frequently hosts the Southern Eastern Great Lakes Competition in February. The club was also host to the 2005 National Collegiate Championships and the 2010 National/International Theatre on Ice competition with 625 competitors competing with 34 teams and again hosted the 2013 National Theatre on Ice Competition with 890 skaters and 48 teams.


The following national entertainers performed on the arena’s stage during the period of Caroline’s employment:

Liberace Nat King Cole

Roger Williams Horace Heidt

Pat Boone Sarah Vaughn

Lawrence Welk Vaughn Monroe

Elvis Presley The Ames Brothers

The Four Lads Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians

The Fonatine Sisters Paul Whiteman and his orchestra

Spike Jones Roy Rogers

Guy Lombardo and his orchestra Gene Autry

Sigmond Romberg Sonja Henne

Patti Page Victor Borge

Frankie Lane Harlem Globetrotters

Plus Holiday on Ice of 19__ (most every year of the ‘50’s decade)

The Troy Bruins hockey team operated from the arena’s opening in 1950 until 1959. Dayton viewed with surprise that Troy had such a popular entertainment venue and opened a similar facility- Hara Arena- about 1960. Big-name entertainment at Hobart diminished significantly after Hara opened, but has always remained one of Troy’s “crown jewels”. In 2001, the arena upgraded significantly courtesy of the Hobart family interests as to its appearance inside and out, widening of the ice rink, and replacement of most mechanical equipment.

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