Illini Skateland anniversary

Chris McMahon and Austin Acord work Wednesday afternoon to put up netting for the new batting cages at Illini Skateland.

Jim McMahon’s life is a testament to the value of community.

And the community has certainly noticed the McMahon family since they purchased Illinis Skateland 32 years ago and moved here to raise a family.

Jim has been a member of various city and county boards and commissions, currently serving his third year as Vermilion County Board chairman.

His wife, Sharon, was elected as Ward 4 Danville City Council alderwoman in April — she also had served an earlier term representing Ward 3 —and they have a son, Chris, who is a Danville firefighter and a daughter, Lisa, who continues to work for the family business after teaching at District 118.

Mention the name McMahon — or Jim’s nickname, “Mouse” — just about anywhere in Vermilion County and it’s likely someone will know who you’re talking about.

What you may not know is Jim’s sense of community came about thanks to the community reaching out to him.

New beginning

Jim was just 10 years old when he started frequenting a skating rink in suburban Chicago Aurora.

He was just like the other kids at the rink, dropped off on a rainy afternoon when his parents needed a babysitter and a safe place to leave the kids.

But he soon found he had a knack for skating and developed a friendship with the owner, who hired him on to help at the rink in exchange for free lessons.

“At 12, I knew I wanted to own my own roller rink,” he said.

The owner not only gave him a job and direction, he went so far as to eventually paying for Jim to attend college, where he received a psychology degree, and further supported him as he mastered speed skating to become a national champion.

“He bought my books, my shirts, everything,” McMahon recalled. “He was a mentor.”

McMahon also met his wife at that rink, noting that on her second visit she returned without her boyfriend.

By the time they were married in 1974, the McMahons had started investing in roller rinks, with Jim helping run a chain based in Springfield before purchasing the Savoy rink a little more than a year later. In 1977 they snatched up the Danville facility, but soon sold the Savoy site after Jim foray into local politics as a police commissioner for 10 years.

Banked on

Within five years of moving to Danville the McMahons found themselves again on the receiving end of “community.”

A fire destroyed the rink and the McMahons found the insurance they held was not going to pay for it to be rebuilt.

“The bank (then Palmer and now Old National) called us,” he said, “and they said, ‘You write checks and we’ll cover the checks until you get back on your feet.’ That was the bank calling us.”

The bank even suspended interest for a certain amount of time until the business was able to recover.

“I don’t think that would happen now,” Sharon added. “We wouldn’t be in Danville today if they didn’t do that. That showed a lot about this community.”

Paying forward

If, if, if…

If there wasn’t a rink in Aurora, if the owner hadn’t taken Jim under his wing, if the bank hadn’t come through after the fire.

All of those things have weighed heavily in both the McMahons feelings on the value of public service, volunteering and community involvement.

“That’s why we try to give so much back to the community,” he said, “because we’ve gotten a lot from it. You can’t give back if you’re not in the right place to plant the seeds.”

Illini Skateland has not only persevered since the fire, it has thrived.

“We try to add something new every five years,” he said. Almost 10 years ago they added the birthday room that houses video games during the summer season. Then it was the mini-golf course five years after that and the laser-tag game three years ago.

Most recently Skateland has added batting cages hoping to draw more customers, but also realizing it’s another family activity Danville residents can enjoy. The cages are in fact four automatic pitching machines covered in nylon netting to keep the balls from escaping.

“We just don’t like it if we don’t owe the bank money,” Sharon joked.

“Roller-skating to this day is a giant baby-sitting service for teens or younger,” he said. “We stick to the family atmosphere. I can’t tell you how many kids we’ve kept off the streets.”

And it makes the McMahons once again thankful for the support of the community.

“It’s the highest compliment and endorsement you can get — when you trust me with your kids. People trust us.”

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