A woman familiar to generations of roller skaters in Neosho and a surrogate mom to many soldiers, Violet Hudson, will celebrate her 100th birthday this month. Violet Hudson - known as Vi to many - and her husband, Bud, ran the Gayway Roller Rink in Neosho from 1941-1979. A birthday celebration for Vi is planned in Springfield, MO where she now lives on Saturday.

There was a time in Neosho when Friday or Saturday night for the younger crowd meant heading out to the roller rink and buckling on a pair of skates, then skating the night away with friends.

In the early years, the rink was adjacent to Camp Crowder, an active post during World War II.

Vi became a surrogate mother to many homesick young soldiers who served at the post. She lent an ear to their tales of unrequited love and soothed the jangled nerves of soldiers diagnosed with what was then called shell-shock, now known as PTSD.

The term "comfort animal" hadn't yet been coined but Vi provided a "comfort baby" in her son, Kit. She shared Kit with any distressed GI who needed a cuddle.

Of course, since many of the soldiers were young men, they also got stress relief from teaching Kit some locker room - or barracks - language. Kit, who later provided musical accompaniment for the skaters, was reported to have the most colorful vocabulary of any two-year old in the United States.

Many of the soldiers kept in touch with Vi for many years but the last soldier has since passed away. Their memory, however, lives on with Vi.

For Neosho kids, there were two things to do for fun - see a movie at the Orpheum downtown or go skating. Older kids also cruised around the Square on Friday and Saturday nights but sooner or later, almost all ended up skating because it was the thing to do and the place to be.

Kit and Bud manned the counter while Kit often provided the music for skaters.

Over the years, many fun events took place at the Gayway, birthday parties, young romances and even a wedding. On December 27, 1945 Ruth Byrd, Neosho, married James Edwards Owens at the rink with the entire wedding party on skates. Another notable occasion didn't happen at the rink but happened when President Harry Truman visited Neosho in 1962.

Kit Hudson was selected to perform the Missouri Waltz as Truman and Neosho native artist Thomas Hart Benton made a grand entrance to a luncheon in their honor. He played popular tunes until the pari arrived, then shifted into the waltz. Kit remembers the moment when Truman paused, patted him on the shoulder and said, "Very fine, young man." Years later, Kit would learn that Truman was naming the most irritating thing during his presidency was that every time he walked into a room, someone played the Missouri Waltz.

The Gayway Skating Rink was located just south of Neosho on Highway 71, near the intersection of what is now MO-59 and Industrial Drive.

The rink may be long gone but the memories are still alive, especially for those who had fun there and for Vi Hudson, celebrating her 100th birthday.

From Neosho and the Neosho Daily News - happy birthday Vi!