Lake Robbins Ballroom
2007 - Ballroom
Hometown: Woodward, IA
Bio: It started out as a natural pond, referred to as Carmen’s pond, by the local farmers. Riley Robbins owned the land and in the 1920’s, with assistance from his son, made a lake. They used teams of horses to dredge it out.
In 1929 Robbins began to build the ballroom. It was completed and opened Nov. 11, 1931. According to Riley’s daughter-in-law Mina Robbins, it just poured that night and the mud was knee-deep. Cars were lined clear up the road – on both sides. The place was packed!
At that time, the main room was all dance floor (10,000 sq. ft.) with the stage and a bench around the outer wall. South of the ballroom was another building for drinking. At that time you were not allowed to drink and dance on the same floor. Later the bar was moved and attached to the east side of the main ballroom.
The Herbie Kay Orchestra, from Chicago, played that first night with Dorothy Lamour as his female singer. She was 17 years old.
The current owners are not quite sure what year the Bess family started with the ballroom; sometime in the 1930’s. Paul Bess was first; joined later by his brother Pete. It was a family business, with another brother and the parents also helping. Pete Bess and his wife Wilma, bought the ballroom in 1946.Wilma was with the ballroom for 50 years and still comes out every Sunday (for ballroom dancing). She says there is always something to learn, every time you open the doors.
The Bess family made it a true ballroom. Just imagine going through all those Depression and World War II years and wondering what the next day would bring! They did it and gave the ballroom the magic that has attracted thousands of people over the years.
Lake Robbins has had its share of famous artists over these many years. Among them were: the Dorsey Brothers, Kay Kyser, Mel Tillis, Hank Thompson, Louis Armstrong (1954), Duke Ellington, Pat Boone and Les Brown. In the 70’s such territorial rock groups as Dahcotah, Pelican Peace Band and Sky Dancer brought a rock sound to the place. Recently such stars as Bobby Vee, Johnny Rivers, Asleep at the Wheel and Little River Band have packed the house.
In 1976 Lyn Wilkinson started at the Lake Robbins Ballroom as a waitress and fell in love with the place. After spending a decade on the East Coast, Lyn moved back to Iowa and bought the ballroom in 1993. It has been a family affair ever since. Brothers Tony and King have played a vital role in restoring the ballroom to its original glory.
A trip to the Lake Robbins Ballroom is a step into the world of Iowa’s glorious ballrooms. It remains one of the few still operating in the state and proudly takes its deserved place in the Hall of Fame with the Class of 2007.