VALarena owners say goodbye as new owners continue tradition of roller skating rinks at North Apollo
After more than two decades of successfully operating the VAL Arena in North Apollo, Fred and Debra Knepshield can finally hang up their roller skates.
The ice rink, named after the first letters of Vandergrift, Apollo and Leechburg, has been an entertainment institution in the Alle-Kiski Valley for 73 years.
The new owners keep the name VALarena, which was a request from Knepshields, and added: VALarena Sk8Land.
The VALarena is the last remaining roller rink in Armstrong County, according to Experience Armstrong Inc.’s 2022 Visitor Guide, and one of four dedicated roller rinks still in operation in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Others in operation include the Neville Roller Dome on Neville Island, the Latrobe Skating Center in Latrobe, and the Eden Park Roller Rink in McKeesport.
“It’s exciting that they found someone who wanted to keep the tradition going rather than converting it into a warehouse or something,” said county tour assistant Tracie Leshock Bowser.
The Knepshields, who met at the rink and are now both 67, have been wanting to retire for several years. Then covid-19 hit. The rink was closed for about a year, a new roof was needed, and other expenses arose.
Reopening was uncertain. When the public learned of the rink’s troubles, the rink’s Facebook page exploded with over 17,000 views.
Fans launched two GoFundMe campaigns and raised over $7,000. The VALarena reopened in February 2021 with a new roof.
The Knepshields sold him on June 1 to Mike and Wendy Vaughn of Pittsburgh. They declined to give the final turnover, which included the business, building, rink contents and equipment.
“We finally did it,” said Fred Knepshield.
“Hallelujah,” exclaimed his wife, Debra.
The Vaughns, who were looking for a retro rink, found the rink, worked on it for a while and liked it enough to buy it, Knepshield said.
“We added a little flair to the name, but we plan to keep the nostalgia alive by retaining the history that lives here,” the Vaughns said.
“Because we are the only remaining roller rink in Armstrong County, we feel it is extremely important to provide a place to skate for those who do,” the couple said. “And it’s a place to introduce these people to the great sport and recreational activity of roller skating.
Longtime North Apollo Rink fans were thrilled to see the rink continue.
“We are pleased that the VALarena continues to be a landmark in our city,” said North Apollo Borough Administrator Tracy Miller.
Miller skated at the rink as a child and her parents met there.
“Many of us have fond memories of the rink, and we hope to have the business in our town for many years to come,” she said.
From late December to early spring, the rink experienced its busiest winter season in 23 years, Knepshield said.
The rink attracts around 1,000 skaters a week.
“Thank goodness we had help, because we were really racing,” Knepshield said.
The high attendance could be partly caused by the closure of the Tarena Roller Rink in Taranto earlier this year, he noted. Customers come from a radius of 25 to 40 miles.
The Knepshields said they plan to enjoy family and more free time.