“We’ve had a lot of good times out there,” said Hansen, who played his accordion at the Starlite’s second dance in 1964. “There’s no better place around. We’re lucky to have it in the county, and I hope the people in the area appreciate it. It’s been such an asset to the community.”
Built on five acres, the 15,000-square-foot insulated Behlen metal building, with its 5,000-square-foot wood dance floor, sits on the south side of Nebraska 92 three miles west of Wahoo, with its doors facing the highway.
In 1964, on Memorial Day weekend, couples Adrian and Betty Rezac, and Joe and Marie Cherovsky opened the ballroom, calling it the Starlite.
“I think Marie thought of it, probably because of the sparkles in the ceiling,” said Wahoo’s Betty Rezac, 82.
The Rezacs and the Cherovskys opened it because they loved to dance to the music of Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo and more. But they had to drive to David City, Lincoln or elsewhere to do so.
“We decided we needed a ballroom,” Rezac said.
And so they built one big enough to accommodate 700 to 800 people. It often reached its capacity.
“When it was a brand-new place, it was the place to go and the place to be,” said Steve Hough of the rock cover band The Rumbles, which played there often after coming together the year before in 1963. “It was such a unique, nice place . and in the middle of nowhere.”
In 1970, a summer storm with volatile winds damaged the building, which eventually forced the couples to put it up for sale.
“It was a sad time for us,” Rezac said “It really was starting to boom, but the roof blew off and did us in.”
Phil Bates, a sometime trumpet player and tire salesman, took it over in 1976, sharing ownership with his father, Jerry, and father-in-law Rudy Penke, both of Ashland. More tragedy struck the ballroom in February 1980 when a fire caused extensive smoke damage and destroyed the stage, part of the dance floor and some booths. Bates reopened the Starlite three months later, but it closed in 1986, with Penke as the owner.
In September 1990, the Valparaiso Knights of Columbus purchased the ballroom at an auction. But after the club’s membership voted down the purchase, several of the Knights decided to buy it instead for themselves. Ten couples and three bachelors - among them Ron and Darlene Kliment - became the new owners, and after several weeks of renovation, the Starlite reopened on New Year’s Eve. Its official grand opening happened Feb. 2, 1991.
The ballroom, with the Kliments as its managers, is now used for craft shows, wedding receptions, anniversary parties and specialty events (Elvis tribute artist Joe Hall performs at least twice a year).