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Golden Roadrunners of Yuma to celebrate 25th year in ballroom
In the 1960s, senior citizens in Yuma with a passion for ballroom dancing got together to pursue the social activity.
An offshoot from this founding group was Golden Roadrunner, Inc., incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1970.
"The Golden Roadrunners danced all over town," Leora Nelson, Roadrunners vice president, said. "Some of the first places were the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Hall, located downstairs at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 2nd Street, where the USO was during World War II. Other places were the Joe Henry Hall, Civic Center, Woodard School, the Jaycee Clubhouse and the Saddle Club.
"By 1980, we had $80,000 in a building fund. One of our members, Bill Waid, a member of the group, saw that the F.S. Rasco store, at 274 Main St., was for sale. He contacted our president, George Luce. The property was in trust by the City of Hope, asking $100,000" for the store that had been built about 1920.
Luce did the bargaining and offered $25,000 cash. It was accepted, and the building was purchased in March 1982.
On Saturday, the Golden Roadrunners will celebrate 25 years of dancing on their ballroom floor with a dance from 7 to 10 p.m., to the music of the Ray Cox band.
Luce, a retired electrician, recruited dancers to help in the remodeling. "The entire floor of the former five and dime store had to be replaced. Partitions had to be removed and the stairs location changed," Nelson said.
Luce, who has since passed away, designed the stage and mezzanine. The polished oak floor gained a reputation for being great for dancing - waltzes, foxtrot, polkas and "fun mixers" such as the "Jolly Miller," or the "whistle" dance.
The first dance was Oct. 16, 1982, with 315 people gliding across the floor.
Phil Clark, then the mayor of Yuma, was at the grand opening on Nov. 13, 1982.
"Mr. Luce and other members of the organization visited with me on several occasions, telling me they just wanted to add to activities downtown. This was welcomed, because they did bring traffic downtown, and their dancing was a positive addition. I felt honored to be there for the opening and was amazed at the turnout. I'm not a dancer, but those folks were great," Clark said.
Attendance for the opening was 430. The December count was 487 dancers, honoring Luce.
Dancing on the floor continued with only a few months off when a city sewer line leaked in 1995.
"Many of the dancers were winter visitors," Nelson said. "Al Merrifield, a past president, stayed in Yuma to supervise redoing the floor in front of the stage that had been damaged. The workers were able to save many of the oak boards that were carefully removed and numbered to be put back in place. They had to tunnel under the sidewalk to Main Street. Workers dug out the soil and took it out in wheelbarrows to be hauled away. That renovation was about a $20,000 process." Her late husband, Duane, was custodian for about five years, caring for the floor.
Glen Vandivier is treasurer for the Golden Roadrunners. His wife, Betty is second vice president. "We have to be careful to keep the floor in good condition," he said. "We go over it about three times, cleaning, sprinkling wax and polishing it. This is twice a week. Our dances are open to all ages, but we just don't allow children to run and slide across the floor. I just tell them to respect the floor."
One of the faithful dancers, Al Merrifield, celebrated his 90th birthday Nov. 16. Maintaining her "youth" at 96 is Della McConnaughy, whose late husband, Mac, played in a band for the dances.
Dances are each Wednesday and Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m., to live music. No alcohol or smoking is permitted. Admission is $4 per person.
Pam M. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856.