- By Lisa Powell Staff Writer
When shovels dug into the Trotwood ground in 1963 to expand the Wampler Ballarena, the new facility needed a name.
Brothers Harold and Ralph Wampler came up with a simple solution: Take the first two letters of their first names. Since, Hara has been a household name in the region (and, in its heyday, the entire entertainment industry).
Adding onto the dance hall built in 1956, the facility grew into a six-building complex that served as a convention, exposition and sports center on Shiloh Springs Road in Trotwood. When it opened in 1964, a whole new world of entertainment opened to the community.
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“It is a shame we have had to go to Cincinnati and Troy to enjoy the facilities these boys are putting up here,” said Harry Kiefaber, a Montgomery County commissioner, at the groundbreaking.
After more than six decades of business, the iconic venue will host its last event - a comic and toy show - on Saturday.
Announcement of the closure inspired recollections across the region. Thousands have sung along with a favorite band, cheered for their team and commemorated special events at Hara Arena.
The Grateful Dead, Nirvana, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Donny Osmond are among the musical greats who have entertained local crowds.
Two performances by the Rolling Stones in the 1960s and a sold-out Prince concert in 1983 have added to local music lore.
Thousands have glided across the ice at Winterland skate and cheered for the Dayton Gems as the team competed in what is now the oldest hockey arena in the area.
Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One,” took to the ice for the first time as a professional hockey player at Hara Arena. He was just 17 and a member of the Indianapolis Racers when his team took on the Cincinnati Stingers in 1978. Later that season, he joined the NHL.
More than 3,000 strangers came together in 1969 and gave thanks at the first Beerman Thanksgiving dinner, which went on to become an annual event for the community.
Thousands of amateur ham radio operators from around the world have inundated the complex each year since 1964 for Hamvention, the world’s largest amateur radio gathering, according to the Dayton Hamvention website.
Name it, and Hara has most likely held it.
For decades the community has attended cat shows, presidential visits, Toughman contests and proms at the arena. Home improvement shows, football games, llama competitions, book sales and bridal shows drew folks through the doors.
As its closure was announced, memories flooded in.
“For our 50-year anniversary, we had people send in their favorite Hara memories. I assumed the stories would center around sold-out concerts or larger-than-life events like the Ringling Brothers Circus or pro wrestling,” said Karen Wampler, Hara’s marketing director and daughter-in-law of one of the founders, in a statement.
“But they were mostly sweet stories of a first kiss at a Winterland skate, a first love at a high school prom, a father-daughter dance at a wedding reception, a multi-generational annual shopping tradition at the Gift Show or the life-changing guidance of a hockey coach. Those memories will be Hara’s legacy.”