COLUMBIA — Every day, Willie Trent gets to do what he loves.
As the owner of Empire Roller Rink in north Columbia, Trent is allowed to do what he does best, which is build community — a talent he inherited from his father, Frank, who opened the rink in 1938. The positive attitude Trent directs toward helping the community is the same optimism he devotes to overcoming challenges.
He views them not as setbacks but as adventures. It is this philosophy that has motivated Trent to be active in helping Columbia youths.
“Yeah, I kind of consider myself a teacher," he said. "My wife teaches skate lessons, but if you talk to my wife she’ll say, 'He’s raised most of the kids in Columbia.' And I knew their parents, and their parents used to skate here.”
This commitment has inspired Trent to serve the Columbia community for decades. An intergenerational appreciation for his teaching can be found in one of Trent's many stories.
“After you’ve been around for a while you see it's kinda interesting that parents come back and visit,” he said. “I had a lady I went to high school with who recently brought her three children in … or there used to be this grandmother who brought her granddaughter in to learn how to skate.”
She was in the rink so much that Trent suggested that she buy some skates for herself — and with guidance from Trent and wife Lisa, the woman joined the artistic skate club and began competing.
“It used to be that the granddaughter could skate better than her grandmother, but not anymore,” he said with a smile in his voice.
Trent has countless stories — the mark of a true grandfather.
Trent speaks to young people in an attempt to teach them what should be important in life, and, like a grandfather, puts them in their place before they have a chance to make a mistake.
“I feel I provide a service by having (the rink) here for the kids, which not only is a great entertainment for the children and adults, but also gives a chance to get to know other people,” he said.
Empire Roller Rink is located on 1305 Business Loop 70 E. The rink's new beginner skate lessons begin Sept. 12.