In 1956, Bob Raskob and his brothers were tired of traveling to neighboring towns when they felt like going out bowling or dancing with their wives. Their family dairy farm made it hard to stay away overnight — they had to milk the cows bright and early every morning.
So the Raskobs, along with a family friend, decided to make their own fun and build a local entertainment venue. One $800 land purchase later, the first version of the Medina Entertainment Center (then called Medina Ballroom and Lanes) was in the works only 2 miles from their home. Les Raskob, one of eight siblings, worked as the general contractor from a plan his brother Joe Raskob sketched out. The brothers all kept their day jobs and worked on the building at night.
When the project was complete, the building held a ballroom, a small restaurant and an eight-lane bowling alley. As the center grew, many family members got involved in all aspects of the day-to-day operations. Over the past 61 years, the business has gone through many changes, some challenges and one tragedy.
In 1974, disaster struck when built-up fumes during a bowling alley resurfacing project caused an explosion and fire. All the workers escaped, but Bob’s 17-year-old daughter Kathy and her friend Lori Ellingson, also 17, who were upstairs painting the bandstand ceiling, died in the fire.
Bob Raskob and his wife, Geri, each coped with the heartbreaking event in their own way, says their granddaughter Missy Miller, who is now director for events and catering at Medina Entertainment Center. The fire was in June and Bob had rebuilt by September. Keeping busy must have been his way of dealing with the tragedy, Miller says.
The rebuilt building still stands today. “We’ve had to do lots of remodeling over the years,” Miller says. “That’s the biggest struggle — having to constantly put money into it to keep it up-to-date.”
The restaurant and bar have been remodeled and renamed four times. The bowling alley also went through many refreshes; scoring transitioned from pencil and grease pen to automated machine in 1974 to software in a center console in 1985. The lanes were most recently redone in 2000, and an adjoining room with a variety of video games is very popular for kids’ parties.
Many customers are loyal to the venue, planning parties and meetings there annually. American Midwest Power has been a corporate customer for 28 years. “The venue continues to invest in its facility to maintain its quality,” says shipping and inventory manager Mark Fjerstad. “[It’s] a great venue that keeps us coming back, year after year.”
Though the façade has changed, the staff is remarkably steady, often starting young and staying on for decades. Assistant bowling center manager Brent Neumann, 30, has worked at the entertainment center since he was 16. Chef Trent Anderson has been with them for almost 25 years.
Family members also start young. Bob’s son and Miller’s uncle Mark Raskob started as a janitor at age 12, for 25 cents an hour. Later he moved on to bartending, bookkeeping and booking the bands. Bob worked with country acts and Mark with rock bands, but as Bob edged toward partial retirement, he just did polka bookings — his favorite.
Mark is now the general manager and president of the center. “I’ve kind of got it in the blood after doing it for so many years,” he says. The biggest challenge is competing for band bookings, because casinos can afford to pay more with the revenue they get from gambling. “But we do get a lot of really good bands,” Mark says.
Johnny Holm and his band have played a couple shows each year at the entertainment center since the 1970s. “The Medina ballroom is the last of the great ballroom era,” Holm says. “It’s the one that’s lasted and I think it’s because they’ve always run
a classy place.”
Miller’s first memory of work was counting money in the office when she was 5 years old, and her first official job was at 14 working the coat check and then the “wiener wagon,” making coffee and hot dogs at 5 a.m. for the weekly flea market, which is still operated by the Hamel Lions on Sundays from May through September.
After that, Miller moved on to the front office, selling tickets and answering phones, then cocktail serving, bartending and wedding planning. Eventually, she ended up strictly planning events, she says. “Catering was my niche.”
“We were blessed that my grandfather created a life and a job for us,” Miller says, but the family has had to learn as they go without formal training. “My mom and her brothers have only worked here — this is what they’ve done,” says Miller, who spent three years at a large catering company before coming back. Each has their own role and department to oversee, and they use weekly meetings to catch up and hash things out.
Working with family isn’t as hard as people often imagine, Miller says. “We can have families and be part of our families and family comes first — so there’s never a question of why someone left early or came in late. There’s a lot of trust involved.”
While the original partners mostly retired over the years, Bob Raskob stayed until his death last year at the age of 90. “He had no desire to retire,” Miller says. “He’d come in every day and play cribbage and cards with his buddies. He came to every show and sat at the end of the bar. We’d pick him up from assisted living and bring him in.”
Miller is quick to point out that her grandmother was also instrumental to the business’ success. “Without my grandmother, he would have had no business. Women of that generation get forgotten, but she had a major role.” She stayed with the kids, cleaned and kept things running, helped at the ballroom and bowling alley, and babysat grandchildren so her children could work with Bob.
Mark also points out that it’s a group effort. “It takes all of us to keep the place going. It’s taught us well over the years how to get along. It’s a pleasure when you can work alongside your dad for that long. I think how fortunate he was to have that, and for us, too,” Mark says.
“Bob’s spirit is kind of in the building with us,” Miller says. “If a cup falls down, people joke, ‘Oh, Bob.’ ” Upstairs in the massive ballroom, it’s not hard to imagine spirits lingering at the edges of the cavernous space. The 6,100-square-foot maple dance floor retains its original air cushion designed for ballroom dancing, and various creaks echo across the 22,000 square feet that can hold up to 2,000 people for concerts. The huge room can be whittled down for smaller events, and white tulle and twinkle lights draped from the ceiling makes a more intimate space for weddings and proms. More drapes close off other areas, and white lanterns adorn the ceiling.
“The ballroom is our most authentic space,” Miller says. She points out the black ceiling, which is made of recycled money sprayed on for soundproofing. There have been updates, too — they got a new sound and lighting system in 2016. The ballroom accommodates a wide variety of events, from polka one Tuesday a month [Bob’s legacy], to country and rock musicians. The space won’t hold the biggest crowds, so they often get bands that are starting out or may be a bit past their prime, but still popular. Acts like Kid Jonny Lang, Keith Urban and Garth Brooks are a few of the artists who’ve performed there.
“I always think about it like my grandfather’s vision was [about] what the Brunswick zones are. We had the concept before these huge centers popping up now,” Miller says. What this family-owned business offers, though, is a different level of service. “So many of our staff have been here since their teens. The staff and family are invested in the business, and we learn every day,” she says.
Land purchased and original building completed, called Medina Ballroom and Lanes: eight bowling lanes, the ballroom and a small restaurant
June — explosion and fire, with two fatalities, Kathy Raskob and Lori Ellingson. September — rebuilding complete, with restaurant, bowling center, banquet room and ballroom.
Bar and restaurant remodeled and renamed the Victorian Room
Bar and restaurant remodeled and renamed Rascals
Software added to bowling alley.
Bowling lanes refinished and another software update
Bar and restaurant remodeled and renamed Robert’s, after Bob Raskob
New sound and lighting system in ballroom. Medina Entertainment Center’s 60th anniversary and Bob’s death at age 90 on July 15