Spokane’s closely knit ice skating fraternity is mourning the loss this week of its beloved matriarch, Sandy Blackwell, who died Monday afternoon at the age of 71, following a prolonged battle with cancer.
Blackwell had been involved with the Lilac City Figure Skating Club since its inception and, according to Johnnie Bevan, was a “mother figure” at the Eagles Ice-A-Rena, which she and her former husband, Bud, helped finance and build back in the early 1970s.
“She was a mainstay at the rink, and a driving force behind the Learn to Skate Program here in Spokane,” said Bevan, a Spokane resident and one-time world-class skater who was “mentored,” but not necessarily coached, by Blackwell. “She just loved working with the young kids, whether it was helping them find the right size of rental skates, or encouraging them over the loudspeaker once their lessons were over.
“I remember when I first got started skating, she was there to support me when I was good, and she was there to support me when I was bad – because I wasn’t always the nicest of kids. She was there to tell me I did a good job, and she was also here to tell me, ‘Johnnie, you can’t skate for a week, because you used a swear word out there.’ ”
According to Bevan, the Blackwells and two other families put up the capital to build what was then the Lilac City Ice Arena back in 1974. Bud Blackwell was the building chairman for the project, and Sandy went on to serve in various capacities at the rink, even after the original owners sold the facility to the Spokane Eagles Lodge.
She was a past chairperson for Iceadelics, the biannual ice show put on by the children of the Lilac City Figure Skating Club, and also sat on the LCFSC’s board of directors.
Most recently, under the arena’s current owners, she worked as an office manager, while also directing the Learn to Skate Program.
Meegan McDonald, another Spokane resident who went on to skate professionally in ice shows around the world and later served as a LCFSC instructor, considered Blackwell one of her closest friends and mentors.
“She was just one of those people – it didn’t matter if you were 5 years old, 80 or 30 – who you could sit down and talk to about anything. She was a great listener and full of wisdom. There were many times when I was training at the club, especially when I had a bad day, that I would go up to Sandy’s office and talk to her before I went to my coach.
“And after I left Spokane to skate in ice shows, Sandy came and visited me across the nation, and I’m not even related to her. She just came to support me and my skating. She was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known.”
McDonald, who recently moved to Seattle, recalled how Blackwell would blow up balloons and put on full-blown celebrations at the rink whenever a skating class was graduated.
“And she always handed out flowers to the students to give to their coaches as a way of saying thanks,” McDonald said. “Anyone who was around her walked away wanting to become a better person – wanting to become like Sandy.”
Melodie Miner, Blackwell’s niece by marriage and one of the current co-owners of the Eagles Ice-A-Rena, is working on a memory board that will hang in the arena to commemorate Blackwell and her contributions to ice skating in the Spokane area.
“She was organized, she was enthusiastic and that rink was her baby,” Miner said. “She really, really adored the preschool kids and the Learn to Skate Program, because she knew they were the ones who were going to keep the rink going.”
A memorial service for Blackwell, who is survived by her three grown children, Jeff, Kevin and Tami, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be held Jan. 14 at the Calvary Chapel at 511 West Hastings.
Instead of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Sandy Blackwell Scholarship Fund, in care of the Lilac City Figure Skating Club.