Skippy Baxter, the world-class figure and speed skater who taught for nearly 50 years in Santa Rosa and whose constant, beaming presence at the rink built by the late Charles Schulz all but melted the ice, died Tuesday at the age of 93.
After nearly losing a leg as a child, Baxter grew up to never take a sip of drink, never smoke and never swear. Before giving up driving just months ago he drove often to a Sebastopol cemetery to visit the grave of his friend, former boss and fellow skater and World War II combat veteran, Schulz.
Baxter "really was a rock star," manager Justin Higgs said at the skater's home away from home, the Schulz family's Redwood Empire Ice Arena. "He was gentleman. A gentle man and a gentleman."
Jeannie Schulz said, "Skippy had a wonderful life, and made a lot of people happy."
History may remember Baxter as the war-thwarted Olympian who performed in 5,532 ice shows with Sonja Henie and other greats, won national medals in both singles and pairs competitions in the same year and aced his final back-flip at age 70.
To generations of Sonoma County skaters, he was the gracious, smiling, old-school master who made a joyful occasion of a lesson on slippery, unforgiving ice.
"He made all of us his feel that he loved us as much as we loved him," said lifelong Sonoma County skater Lisa Navarro. She was a kid when she met Baxter in 1961 at his and his late brother Meryl's brand-new Santa Rosa Ice Skating Rink on Summerfield Road.
The Baxter brothers would later meet "Peanuts" cartoonist Schulz there. He and his first wife, Joyce, brought their five children in for lessons until a structural problem with the roof forced the Baxter brothers to shut down in 1968.
Skippy Baxter remembered Schulz phoning one day and saying, "Skippy, if I build a new rink, will you and your brother run it?"
"Without hesitation," Baxter said in a 2009 interview with The Press Democrat, "I said &‘yes'."
The Schulzes opened the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, better known today as Snoopy's Home Ice, on West Steele Lane in 1969. Meryl Baxter was its manager and Skippy Baxter the director of instruction.
"I met him when I was 2? years old," longtime skating instructor Choeleen Loundagin said at the rink Tuesday, only hours after Baxter died at the nearby Kaiser Hospital. "I don't remember not knowing Skippy."
Now 45 and a lifelong friend who visited Baxter almost daily, Loundagin said she certainly learned ice skating from him, and also the importance of passionate endeavor and friendship.
"I don't think I'm unique" in regard to how her skating instructor impacted her development as a person, she said. "In this community, I can't imagine how many people were touched by him."
Loundagin smiled and added, "I always teasingly told him I blame my life on him."
Baxter hoped to continue giving lessons at the Schulz family's arena until age 90. But in 2009, at 89, a fall on the ice fractured his hip.
Though that ended his teaching career, he continued to stop by the arena regularly, consult and humbly accept hugs, kisses and adoration from the generations of skaters who could not imagine the rink without him.