The children of Earl and Arlene Bigalk, affectionately called “The Seven Ks,” will be hosting a rollerskating reunion at Wheelers on Sunday, April 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. In front, from left, are Kory, Karolin, Karen and Karl. In back are Kendall, Kevin and Keith.	(Submitted photo)
The children of Earl and Arlene Bigalk, affectionately called “The Seven Ks,” will be hosting a rollerskating reunion at Wheelers on Sunday, April 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. In front, from left, are Kory, Karolin, Karen and Karl. In back are Kendall, Kevin and Keith. (Submitted photo)
Many who grew up in Fillmore County have memories of Friday nights spent skating at the Harmony Roller Rink, rock music blaring from the sound booth, strobe lights rotating around the rink and the sound of wheels skimming across the wooden floor. For 20 years, in the late 1960s, 1970s and early '80s, Earl and Arlene Bigalk operated the popular gathering place and became surrogate parents for many in the area.

Their seven biological children, affectionately called "The Seven Ks" spent a great deal of time at the rink, but grew up on a farm located just northwest of Harmony, near Big Springs. Kevin was the oldest, followed by Kyle, Karolin, Kendall, Karen, Karl and Kory. Because the Bigalks were involved in so many community activities, including high school sports and 4-H livestock judging, their family was well-known and well-loved by area residents.

Because the couple was so loved and well-known in the Harmony area, the community was devastated to learn of Arlene's diagnosis of leukemia in 1986, which she fought for eight months before dying on April 20, 1987, at the age of 45. Then, in a second blow just nine days later, Earl died of a massive heart attack at the age of 47. The children were ages 14 to 25 at the time.

Because this year marks the 25th anniversary of their deaths, "The Seven Ks" are planning a special roller skating reunion in their parents' honor, on Sunday, April 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. The afternoon will be filled with reminiscing and rollerskating. All are welcome and the Bigalks urge all to "Spread the word!"

Skating days

The Harmony Roller Rink is where Arlene and Earl first met. In the 20 years that they owned it, the two would lead the couples' grand march each night.

"They were really good at skating," shared Keith. "Everybody at the rink called them Ma and Pa."

Arlene was described by many in the community as being a "second mom" to the youngsters at the roller rink and The Burger Barn, a drive-in that the Bigalks owned in the '80s. She was said to be caring and concerned about her kids as well as other kids in general.

Earl, a hard-working family and community man, was always youth-minded and not only interacted with the community children at the roller rink, but also encouraged young athletes and enjoyed attending high school sporting events.

"I remember playing hockey on Sunday nights after we would lock up," recalled Kevin. "Dad, along with the older kids and adults, would play hockey while Mom and the ladies sat and played cards."

Crystal Borcherding of Mabel also shared a memory of the roller rink, stating that she literally grew up there. "I started skating there when I was 3," she explained. "One of my memories was taking a bagful of my pennies, and I had blackened a few of them, and giving them to Arlene. I was about 6 at the time. When she asked me what the bag was for, I told her it was pennies for the Penny Toss game. I loved that game even though you really had to watch your fingers!"

Crystal explained that the game consisted of spreading pennies down the middle of the rink and when the whistle blew, skaters raced to the middle to find the blackened pennies. Those were good for a treat at the concession stand - a free soda or a candy bar.

"Arlene told me that she would take them that one time, but then in a sterner voice said, 'Just don't bring any more.'"

Others remember going there for dates, like Rebecca Grabau of Preston who shared that her first date with her husband was spent at the roller rink.

"That is probably the first place we all found the loves of our lives," said Julie Barnes, "or so we thought."

Thoughts of the roller rink also inspire memories of music - from Elton John's "Crocodile Rock" and Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" to "Funkytown" by Lipps, Inc.

Shannon Ramthun shared, "'Disco Duck' comes to my mind. Those were the good old days."

Others, like Dana Miller, remember the special skates they would have through the night. They would have backwards skates, couples-only skates, dice games and so many other fun activities through each night of skating. "Ah, the good old days," Dana added. "Some days, what I wouldn't give to go back and relive it all over again."

Linda Calderon also noted that she remembered participating in "skate-a-thons."

"I have no idea what we were raising money for, but I remember going door to door to get pledges and I remember wining a bike," she explained. "Those were good times."

The end of an era

Unfortunately, those good times did not last and the deaths of Earl and Arlene brought a sadness upon the community that had once found so much joy at the roller skating rink.

"Their deaths were a shocking and devastating loss to their family and the community," noted Theresa Bigalk, Kendall's wife.

But their legacy of kindness and support is now instilled in their children.

"I am so thankful for the great example our parents set for us kids." Karen said. "I am amazed at all our parents accomplished in their short lives. When I think I am busy now days, I often think of my parents with us seven kids and all the activities we were in. They were there supporting us all the way!"

The Bigalk farm was sold at an auction in 1990, due to the farm crisis. The Burger Barn was sold in 1987, a few months after Earl and Arlene died. The roller rink, which had been damaged in a fire in the mid-'80s, was rebuilt in 1988 and is still operating today, owned by Jeremy Kruegel and operated as Wheeler's.

So many to thank

"Despite the great loss of our parents, I feel very blessed for the love, support and friendship of so many different people that helped us become the productive people we are today," said Karolin. "We are all blessed with wonderful families, healthy children and gainful employment. Thank you to all of you who have touched our lives!"

There are so many community members and friends that the Bigalk children hope will join them in this celebration on April 22, remembering two individuals who had such a lasting impact on many who live here.

Kendall shared, "I am thankful for all the people who helped our family after the loss of our parents. Even after 25 years, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of them. It is a daily reminder of how important family is and to cherish each day we have with those we love."

The Bigalks noted that there has been so much support and generosity extended to them over the years and they are very grateful for those things. Bob and Judy Peters of Harmony graciously accepted Kory and Karl into their family so they could stay in Harmony and finish their high school years.

They also shared that Barb and Lynn Aggen and their family were a big help during the 4-H years, continuing a tradition of excellence started by Earl and Arlene while showing livestock with their children at the Fillmore County Fair.

"Once I was showing a calf and it went wild and knocked over the tent on top of the judges and queens," Kory shared. "Dad was always in the ring at fair time and we would be running around trying to catch my calf."

Karolin added, "Every year Mom would tell Dad 'this is the last year of this,' but we would always be back at it the next year."

Karl stated, "My parents are a shining light in my heart and (in the hearts of) everyone who knew them. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of my life!"

Spread the word and plan to attend

Theresa also added, on behalf of "The Seven Ks," that they would like to have the chance to personally express their gratitude for the love and support they received from family, friends and the community. "You helped us through this tragedy in our young lives. We will be forever grateful."

The Bigalk children stressed that all are welcome to attend the rollerskating reunion on Sunday, April 22, and to help spread the word.

Karolin created a special event page on Facebook and noted, "We are going to make this the biggest rollerskating party the rink has seen in ages!"