- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - Standing in the relative peace and quiet of the office at Gibson’s Skating Arena, George Sheridan teared up when he was asked about his wife, Ann.

“I keep expecting to see her,” Sheridan said, his voice hushed but still clear over the clamor from the roller rink on the other side of the wood-paneled wall.

For well over a half-century. Ann Sheridan has been a familiar sight to youngsters and the young-at-heart at her family’s skating rink on Muncie’s south side.

As co-owner of the roller rink with her husband, she could always be seen on skates, effortlessly cruising around the arena. She kept young skaters out of trouble, emphasizing safe skating practices and often leading the enthusiastic crowd in skilled demonstrations of skating ability.

That’s changed, however.

That cruel thief of memories and skills, Alzheimer’s disease, has struck Ann Sheridan.

The woman who glided effortlessly around the rink hasn’t skated in months. The woman whose family has been synonymous with skating locally since 1940 has, at the age of 83, finally had to leave behind her skates. Her orange vest with a sheriff’s badge - ironic considering her son George is himself a former Delaware County sheriff - hangs in a small closet in the Gibson’s office.

His eyes still wet, the older George Sheridan smiled a bit at the thought of watching his wife roll up to young skaters who were engaging in a bit too much horseplay in the Gibson’s rink.

“She would tell you what you’re doing wrong,” George said. “She was the sheriff.”

On Sunday, Nov. 1, the Sheridan family will hold a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research. They hope Ann will be able to be there.

They’re expecting a big crowd and they very well might get it: More than 5,000 people “like” Gibson’s on Facebook and the family’s announcement of the Alzheimer’s awareness event and fundraiser has been shared well over a thousand times. More than a hundred people have commented, expressing their sorrow and support.

“It’s overwhelming,” Ann and George Sheridan’s son, Tom, told The Star Press. “They say 50,000 people have seen it. You don’t know the true friends you have until you deal with this.”

And Ann Sheridan, the sheriff of Gibson’s Skating Arena, has a lot of friends.

Although Ann Sheridan’s parents, Earl and Mildred Gibson, opened their rink - first for ice skating, later for roller skating - in 1940, Muncie’s relationship with roller skating goes back decades earlier. According to a 1987 article in The Muncie Star, Thad A. Neely established a roller skate factory in Muncie in 1880. It was one of only five in the United States and Neely’s factory capitalized on a roller-skating craze nationally.

In 1940, the Gibsons - who had an ice plant and ice cream factory along Mock Avenue - decided to build an ice rink. Within a few years, the Gibsons had turned their skating rink into a full-fledged indoor roller rink.

George and Ann Sheridan bought her parents’ skating rink in 1967, but even before that, they were “rink rats” and raised their kids - Beth, Becky, George and Tom - to love skating.

“Before my mom and dad bought it, my dad would bring us every Saturday,” Becky, who is now Becky Hazelbaker, said. “He put a doll pillow in the back of my pants because I fell down so much.”

Son George went into law enforcement, serving as Delaware County sheriff, and teaches martial arts classes in a room not far from the rink. Daughter Beth and her family own a skating rink in New Castle. Becky and the self-proclaimed “runt of the litter,” Tom, work at Gibson’s.

“It wasn’t really expected of us,” said Tom Sheridan, who has also been an emergency services worker. “But it’s part of our life.”

It’s a life the kids shared with their father, who also worked in the construction industry, and their mother, who not only taught kids to skate but kept the books at Gibson’s for decades.

Except for regular family vacations during the summer months, when the lack of air conditioning thinned the crowd at Gibson’s, the Sheridan family spent most of their lives together at the rink.

Which makes Ann Sheridan’s absence now loom large.

“August 29,” Hazelbaker said. She consulted a calendar when asked the last time their mom skated.

But Alzheimer’s disease - which the National Institute on Aging says affects as many as 5 million Americans - was making its presence known as early as 2012, when Ann Sheridan started having trouble with her memory.

Hazelbaker said her mother would be greeted by a longtime acquaintance at the rink but then afterward quietly ask family members who the person was. She would repeatedly call the same local school offices to confirm visits that classes planned for the rink.

“She would sometimes say the same thing five times,” Hazelbaker said.

Their mother’s decline “was a big adjustment for all of us,” Tom Sheridan said.

This was the woman, after all, who earned her nickname - and sheriff’s badge - by keeping a close eye on the rink’s customers. Over the decades, Ann relegated more than a few overly-rambunctious young skaters to the timeout bench along one side of the rink.

“That was Gibson County Jail,” Hazelbaker said in a moment of levity during a conversation more often punctuated by tears.

As much as Ann liked the role of sheriff of the roller rink, “She was the one to make sure everybody had a good time,” her husband said.

George and Ann Sheridan skated competitively in their younger years, and there’s a black-and-white photo of the two, looking dashing on skates, posted among many newspaper articles on one wall of the arena. George guessed that the photo dated back to the 1950s.

“Health-wise, she’s doing real well,” he said when asked about his wife a few minutes later. “But the disease … it’s pretty rough.”

There’s a sign posted near the door to the Gibson Skating Arena office.

“Age is nothing but a state of mind,” the sign reads. The sign, which until just a few months ago no doubt referred to the youthful qualities of even older skaters, has something of a double meaning now.

George Sheridan said his wife often talks about the roller rink. But she’s living in a time long past.

“She talks about going to work, about her mom and dad wanting her to come in to work,” he said, a tremble in his soft voice.

The family is looking forward to the Nov. 1 event and hoping that the roller rink’s longtime fans turn out. They hope Ann can be there to accept the greetings of longtime friends.

And they hope that she isn’t forgotten by the kids who skated at Gibson’s, by their parents and their own kids.

“This was her life, and the kids who skated here were her family,” Tom Sheridan said.

Hazelbaker’s voice broke as she talked about her mother, who is now in a nursing facility, and her father, who at 81 made his own way to the skating rink on this particular evening.

Moments before her father arrived, Hazelbaker said about her parents, “As much as they have given to the city and all the kids they have watched over … I hope the people appreciate it.”

“I think they do,” Tom Sheridan said.

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/1MqMpNe

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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