Answer Man: Did Sonja Henie perform in St. Louis?

News-DemocratJanuary 3, 2014 

If I remember correctly, I think I saw Sonja Henie skate at the St. Louis Arena. Could I be right? I was a very little girl when my mom took me to the skating show, so I could be wrong. I'll be 81 this year. -- G.M., of Belleville

When we start hitting a certain age, we probably all occasionally wonder if our memory of certain events is skating on thin ice. (I always say that we sometimes have problems because our brain -- like an aging computer hard drive -- simply has more stored information to sift through.)

But in this case your recollection seems to be as keen as the blade on a freshly sharpened skate -- which is pretty amazing considering you may have been just 3 years old when Henie first wowed the crowd at the old Arena on Oakland Avenue.

The date was April 7, 1936, when St. Louis promoter Earl Reflow, who brought the Ice Follies here during its first year in 1936-37, staged an International Skating Carnival. The star of the show was Sonja Henie, the Norwegian sensation who had dominated international figure skating for more than a decade.

At just 15, she won her first Olympic gold medal at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 1928, and followed it up with titles at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1932 and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in 1936.

Now having just turned pro, she was ready to dazzle St. Louis fans before turning her talents to Hollywood. Although she barely rated a blip in the Belleville papers, the News-Democrat did note that she arrived by train at Union Station on April 6 and was the guest of honor at a dinner given by the St. Louis Scandinavian societies.

"Nobody knew what skating was until they saw her in (the movies)," noted local skater Helen Nightingale, of the St. Louis Skating Club, once said of Henie's inspiring performances. "She was the original godmother of all skating."

According to the April 8 News-Democrat, she had you and 6,818 others rapt in awe at her skill and grace.

"(Henie) had the audience spellbound with her famous spins and hard-to-master tricks," the News-Democrat noted.

She would go on to become a highly paid Hollywood star in such films as "Sun Valley Serenade" and "The Countess of Monte Cristo." She also organized Hollywood Ice Revue tours through the mid-1950s, so it's possible some of these might have stopped at the Arena, too. Married three times, she would die at age 57 of leukemia while on a flight from Paris to Oslo in 1969.

When I was a boy, I remember many good times attending a Boy Scout camp near Waterloo. I have since moved away, but often have wondered whether youngsters are still having fun at that camp. -- T.L., of Boulder, Colo.

You bet they are -- and when I tell you some of the activities Camp Vandeventer offers, you'll likely wish you were a kid again.

In addition to the swimming, fishing and hiking you probably enjoyed, the camp boasts a shooting sports pavilion and ranges, rappelling, a historic Fountain Creek Trail and an Eagle hiking trail for patch recognition. Of course, there are also a dining hall, pavilions for picnics and crafts, and lodges for overnight camping.

It's a package leaders probably didn't even dream of in 1920, when Fred Nobbe allowed the former East St. Louis Boy Scout Council to start offering programs on his farm outside Waterloo. Originally called Camp Hidden Hand, it was later changed to Camp Mannaseh and was used by both Boy and Girl Scouts.

The camp grew in popularity through the 1920s with new merit badges being added, such as rifle marksmanship. Cost for the summer camp was $5 -- a buck more for Scouts outside the East St. Louis Council.

Then, in 1928, East St. Louis Judge Wilton M. Vandeventer bought 68 acres and part of a half section of land from Nobbe for $2,716. On Nov. 9, 1928, he donated the land to the East St. Louis Council with the stipulation that it be renamed for him.

So today the Lewis and Clark Council uses Club Vandeventer for Cub Adventure Camp and Day Camp during the summer and for packs, troops and crews year-round. For more information on Camp Vandeventer as well as Camp Joy (Carlyle), Camp Sunnen (Potosi, Mo.) and Camp Warren Lewis (Godfrey), go to www.lewisandclarkbsa.org.

Today's trivia

On what object might you be surprised to see a picture of Sonja Henie today?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: If you were lost in the wintertime wilds of Scandinavia centuries ago, you might have said a few fervent prayers to Ull. According to the region's pagan mythology of the time, Ull (or Ullr) was the god of skis or snowshoes. Other writings had him ruling over bows, shields and sleds as well.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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