BROWNSDALE — Rick Eggert was heading home Saturday night when he noticed the street south of his home was covered in haze.
Moments later, he saw flames erupting from the roof of the Rohler Rink in Brownsdale. By Sunday morning, the structure was burned to the ground.
Eggert called Mower County dispatch at about 10:45 p.m. to report the fire. He drove down the block from his home to investigate. By the time he got to the corner where the Rohler Rink stood, the haze became thick smoke.
“By the time I turned the corner, I couldn’t even see,” he recounted Sunday morning.
Before he could turn his truck around to head home, flames were erupting from the roof.
“It was just that fast,” he said.
Melinda Gronvold, who lives next to the skating rink building, watched as firefighters fought a losing battle.
The building was fully engulfed by the time the first crews from the Brownsdale Volunteer Fire Department arrived. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the fire.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Gronvold said. “I thought it might spread to my house.”
She said the north wall adjacent to her home collapsed at about 3:30 a.m. She watched as fire crews assisted by people using excavation equipment lifted segments of the collapsed roof to douse hot spots. At 4:30 a.m., when most of the fire was out, she felt safe enough to go to bed.
Gronvold considered taking her kids to the rink earlier in the day Saturday. But yard work took priority, while her kids sold lemonade in front of the house to people visiting the rink.
“I thought maybe we’d go next time,” she said.
But, there won’t be a next time anytime soon, she added.
“It’s a sad day for Brownsdale,” said Brian Gerhart, who drove by the ruined structure Sunday morning.
“Think of all the people who met there and got married there over the years,” he said.
'It's a landmark'
The rink has been in operation since the mid-1950s. Gerhart, 58, recalled going there as a kid. The house he grew up in was one block away. He enjoyed taking his kids there and seeing how much another generation still enjoyed it.
“It’s just hard to believe,” he said. “To look here and not see it anymore.”
His son Cooper, 12, said he enjoyed seeing friends and going to birthday parties at the rink.
Gerhart said the rink gave the town — with a population of fewer than 700 — an identity.
Once a ubiquitous pastime, other rinks in the region have closed. The Rohler Rink was the last operating indoor roller-skating rink in Southeast Minnesota.
“If you were in an elevator at the Mayo Clinic, and someone asked you where you were from, and you said, Brownsdale, they’d say, ‘Oh, the place with the roller rink,' ” he said. “It’s a landmark.”
Gerhart, who owns Brownsdale Autobody, said it’s sad to see the community lose another business.
Brett and Ronda Rohl have owned and operated the rink for more than 15 years.
The Post Bulletin featured the Rohler Rink in 2018: Want to own a roller rink?
A Brownsdale firefighter was transported to Mayo Clinic Hospital-St. Mary’s Campus for injuries sustained in a fall while conducting water shuttle operations. Another firefighter was treated at the scene for minor smoke inhalation.
No other injuries were reported, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
The Austin Fire Department, Adams Fire Department, Dexter Fire Department, Rose Creek Fire Department and Mower County Sheriff's Office assisted at the scene.