Destiny might best describe how Shoreline’s Highland Ice Arena came to be.
A chance meeting between an Ice Capades performer and a Royal Canadian Air Force radio operator at an ice arena in Montreal, Quebec during World War II planted the seed for the facility, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month.
Discovering a mutual love of the sport, Jim and Dorothy Stephens married Dec. 21, 1944. After the war ended, they started teaching ice skating and then landed their first coaching job in Edmonton, Alberta.
Coaching at an outdoor rink where temperatures hovered at six degrees below zero, however, wasn’t exactly a dream job.
“It was their dream to own their own rink,” said Terry Green, who now co-owns Highland with her brother, Rick Stephens.
The couple moved west, teaching in Portland, Tacoma and Seattle, and for a time were co-owners of the former Ballard Ice Arena.
When the opportunity presented itself to build a new ice arena on the outskirts of Seattle along Pacific Highway 1 (better known today as Aurora Avenue North), the Stephens jumped at the chance.
When Highland opened its doors in 1962, getting the business on its feet was a long, hard process. The Stephens “spent many long days at the rink, and learned the business literally from the ground up,” Green said. “On New Year’s Eve I would crash out in the First Aid room until our folks finished closing up so we could go home.”
Both Green and her brother Rick literally grew up at Highland. After learning to skate at the Ballard rink around the tender young age of 18 months, the siblings quickly graduated to more “hands-on” roles in the new business. “I used to help Mom with the classes she taught,” Green said. “It was especially helpful with the tots because I was much closer to their size and they would follow me across the ice.”
Now retired from the business, the Stephens have passed ownership of the arena on to their children. But don’t count them out completely. “Our folks still come in on a regular basis and keep an eye on things,” said Green. “It’s home away from home.”
Highland has helped nurture its share of skating stars over the last five decades. Linda Sowell Stabler, a star performer in the touring skate show “Holiday on Ice” for more than two decades, and Diane Schatz Rawlinson, an Ice Capades skater, were taught by the Stephens.
Olympic skater John Lettengarver, who placed fourth at the 1948 Winter Olympics, taught at Highland until shortly before his death in 1997. Skater Dena Galech won the U.S. National Junior Ladies title in the 1980s. 1984 Olympic silver medalist Rosalynn Sumners got her start skating in Highland’s “Learn to Skate” classes.
Today’s young skating stars are led by Chrissy Hughes, a member of the Highland Skating club whose rise up the ranks in figure skating has her poised to compete at the National Championships in January 2008.
After 45 years, Highland has become an attraction for multiple generations of families – parents who first skated there as children now bring their own children and grandchildren to the arena. “One of the major highlights is when folks stop by to say ‘hi’ that we haven’t seen for a few years, or when people we grew up with bring their own kids in to skate,” Green said. “There’s a sense of community and a sense of place for those who have become part of the rink through the years.”
And children are a big part of what makes Highland special to Green and her family.
“One thing I enjoy the most is watching the look on a child’s face when they finally realize that they can ‘do it,’” said Green. “It may be difficult at first to adjust to the ice, but once a child hits that point where they realize that persistent effort will pay off with success, the light comes on and the big grin follows.
“It’s a life lesson that never ceases to delight me.”