Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Military families learn about skaters who served in uniform at Colorado Springs museum

By Erin Prater Published: August 7, 2013

Harry Runtzel wouldn't have missed it for the world.

This week's "Skaters Who Served" presentation at the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame combined two of the World War II veteran's loves: ice skating and the military.

It also brought back fond memories a third: Sonja Henie, an Olympic gold-medalist ice skater and movie star whom he danced with at the Hollywood Canteen in 1944 before shipping out to the Philippines.

"I absolutely love it," a wide-smiling Runtzel, clad in his tan Army uniform, said at Tuesday's event.

The event targeted veterans like Runtzel as well as active-duty troops and their families, who are able to get free admission to the museum through Labor Day thanks to its designation as a Blue Star Museum.

"We want to make sure people here know about these skaters and their contributions to the country," said museum archivist Karen Cover.

Cover's presentation detailed the World War II-era military careers of three ice skaters: Lloyd "Skippy" Baxter, who served with the 10th Mountain Division, which trained near Leadville; Joan Tozzer, who served with the Women's Air Raid Defense in Hawaii and served with the USO during her time off; and Edward LeMaire, who served as a Navy flight instructor.

The event succeeded in drawing troops to the museum who otherwise may not have visited it.

Troops like Staff Sgt. Richard Lee Boone.

The tattooed tanker, on leave from the Army, was persuaded to attend by his wife and three children.

Being surrounded by ice skates brought back memories of skating with his wife at recess as the two grew up in Alaska.

Not only was he nostalgic. He was intrigued.

"I like learning about all the different types of ice skates," Boone said. "Some are made out of bone. Others are made out of metal. It blows my mind."

Kathleen Bleisch's husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Belrich, was stuck at work on Peterson Air Force Base. But in a quest to keep her three kids occupied, she packed up the crew and headed to the event, which she'd heard about via Peterson's Airman and Family Readiness Center.

The weary mom was thankful for the educational entertainment opportunity and the sandwiches, cookies and juice that were served.

Most of all, she was grateful for the event's admission price - or lack thereof.

"This area has quite a few activities for the military, but they're few and far between sometimes," she said. "It's nice when they're free."

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