Eloise Hamel (Becker)
1953 Intermediate Ladies Champion
My first experience in skating:
I started roller skating on my sidewalk in metal clamp-on skates. In order to keep them from falling off I had to tighten the clamps until they killed my feet and pulled the sole off of my shoes. But I did get to skate and I loved it! I am not sure which came first in my life, roller or ice, but I was only 3 or 4 years old. In the winter I skated on a pond near my home in Hackensack, NJ. When my family took me to NY to see Sonja Henie, I dreamed of someday skating like her. A friend introduced me to the roller rink in Hackensack when I was about 11 yrs old. The sound of the wheels, the lights, the glitter of the beautiful cut glass on the walls, the organ music (played by Peggy O’Leary) and the proficient skaters spinning in the middle of the floor excited me. I was immediately hooked! I rented skates and set out to have some fun. The skate guards were dressed in maroon uniforms, very elegant with a peaked cap to match. They were looking out for everyone. One in particular, Tony, approached me and gave me some helpful tips. He was a very friendly, happy guy who obviously loved skating and loved kids. He taught group lessons and suggested I join. The more I learned to do, the more fun I had. Soon it was time for me to buy my own Chicago skates. I thought I was the cat’s meow with these beautiful white skates!
Getting seriously involved - my first coach:
I eventually heard about some National competitors who skated at the rink in Bergenfield, NJ. I urged my parents to go the extra mile so I could skate with the champions and learn to be like them. I joined the club in Bergenfield, and took lessons from Vick Shankey. He was tall in stature, always wore a suit or sport jacket and tie, smoked a pipe (off the floor), and ruled the rink with his deep voice and
commanding attitude. With his arms folded, standing on the floor to watch you skate figures, you didn’t dare to make a mistake. But everyone loved Vick. He had a deep chuckle and genuine smile, and you knew when you had pleased him by your performance.
Getting my first precision skates:
It was at this time that I begged my parents for precision skates. I mean, I really begged and begged. I knew skates were expensive but I also knew that if I was ever to excel I needed better equipment. What I didn’t know was that my parents were already in the process of purchasing new skates for me. That is precisely why they allowed me to beg and beg. They finally said in stern voices, “Go get your skate case and prove to us why your Chicago skates are no longer adequate”. Of course I was ready for a blowout. I opened my skate case and there were brand new Liberty precision skates! Since my parents thought I was still growing they bought a larger size (which I never did grow into) so I had to wear three pairs of wool socks in them at a time. I skated many competitions in these skates. I was rough on skates and eventually managed to bend the Liberty plate. I skated on them until much later when I changed to Snyder plates and custom boots.
My major coaches:
Bergenfield rink eventually closed and we all went back to Hackensack. I don’t think Vick Shankey followed us, but if he did it was not for long. Sadly I lost track of Vick. While at Hackensack I took lessons from Phil Pinto. Then Hackensack closed and I went to Paterson. I took some lessons from Bill Mott until he went away in the Army during the Korean war. I continued my lessons with Phil Pinto. Phil was so nice and such a positive, fun person and coach. In my last year of competitive skating, Audrey Mallette and Jude Cull had married and turned pro. Audrey had been a good friend since my days at Bergenfield rink and I had always admired Jude, so I wanted to take lessons from them. I went to Bayonne on weekends for their lessons and I took lessons from Phil during the week. Actually I think I had two or three lessons a week in all. My main coaches in roller skating were Vick Shankey, Phil Pinto, and Audrey and Jude Cull. Phil, Audrey and Jude were with me when I won Nationals.
End of my competitive career - college and surgery:
My competitive career ended in 1953 because I went off to college. I wanted to continue to skate and compete, but my parents said that college was most important and that later I could go back to skating, which I did. I was back at Hackensack Arena (which had opened once again), skating dance with Russ Dunham and skating pairs with Tommy Natalini. Tommy and I were planning to skate Pairs in Nationals that year. Tommy designed outfits for us and we were looking forward to the event. I was also ice skating and had an offer to skate with Holiday Ice Review which I planned to join right after Nationals. But an old knee injury was plaguing me and some days I could hardly put weight on that leg. The knee finally gave out on me and I had to have surgery instead of skating Nationals. That was the first of five operations involving both knees.
My professional career as a National & Master- rated ice skating coach to this day:
I was off skates for ten years. When I tried to skate again, the roller skates were too heavy for my knees so I put them away and changed to ice skating. I skated for fun but soon began to coach ice skating. I produced many competitors and coached at US Nationals and also coached in Japan. I joined the Professional Skaters Association and became Master rated in four disciplines. I went on to write a coaches manual for the PSA, developed an Apprentice Program for coaches which is in effect nation wide to this day, became a Ratings Examiner for coaches, have served 8 years and running on the PSA Board of Directors, serve on numerous committees in the PSA, and I am a mentor to many coaches. I am the recipient of the PSA Honorary Member/Lifetime Achievement Award and also the PSA National Spirit Award. I have taught competitive figure skating for 36 years, during which I have also been the Director of several skating schools. ( I have three children, two grandsons, two step-granddaughters, and five step great-grandchildren. )
In conclusion, my love of skating has carried me through life. From the standpoint of rink management, the pleasure of my first day in the rink set the stage for a lifetime of skating. I can still feel the thrill of the first time I walked into the rink....the sound, the smell, the happy friendly people. Everyone who worked at the rink contributed something to the pleasurable experience....the ticket seller, coatroom check girl, the guy at the skate rental, the skate shop, Tony the skate guard, and the manager of Hackensack Arena....Joe Snyder. I am attaching photos. Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my life.
Eloise Hamel Becker
Sadly just a short time ago I lost my dear friend and coach, Audrey Cull and weeks later my dear friend and dance partner, Russ Dunham. Their deaths were untimely but the memories of them will be cherished forever.