CLEAR LAKE | Hundreds of dancers of all ages took to the dance floor Wednesday evening to kick off the annual Winter Dance Party with the family sock hop at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake.
But amidst the poodle skirts, Buddy Holly-style glasses and saddle shoes, something — or rather someone — was missing.
This year marks the first Winter Dance Party, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday, without Dean Snyder, founder of Dean Snyder Construction Co. and whose family owns the Surf Ballroom. He died Jan. 13.
“(Dean and Joanne) were champions of the Surf,” said Laurie Lietz, Surf Ballroom & Museum executive director and events coordinator.
In his place, a bouquet of flowers and a photograph of Snyder and his wife, Joanne, dancing will be placed at a booth in the ballroom during the Winter Dance Party and will remain there for the duration of the event to allow party-goers the opportunity to share well-wishes with the family, Lietz said.
The booth, No. 113, will forever be reserved in the Snyders’ name, she added.
A tribute is planned for Snyder after the annual Three Stars Finale Saturday evening, she said. Members of the Snyder family are expected to be in attendance.
“It’s a little more difficult (this year),” said Snyder’s son, David, who plans on attending the Winter Dance Party with his wife, Vickie, this weekend. “We want to be there for the fans. We feel like we need to be there for them.”
David said he and his brother, Dale, and their spouses started attending the Winter Dance Party while his parents spent “a lot of years” in Arizona.
“It truly is overwhelming,” he said. “When we purchased (the Surf Ballroom), we had no idea what it meant to everybody, and every year it gets bigger and bigger … It’s pretty humbling.”
When the Surf Ballroom was in danger of closing in 1994, Snyder bought it and refurbished it so Clear Lake would not lose one of its gems.
Snyder, along with family, friends and volunteers, spent months working to restore the ballroom to its original glory ahead of the 1995 Winter Dance Party.
“That was the family part of it,” David said, about restoring the Surf Ballroom. “We kind of all took different parts of it and worked on it, and dad took all the dirty parts of it.”
He referred to his father’s cleaning of piles of broken furniture that filled the tunnels under the current building from previous owners and managers.
In 2008, the Snyder family leased the building to the North Iowa Cultural Center and Museum for daily operations, but remain involved.
Lietz, who had known Snyder for nearly 10 years, said he and his wife of 63 years always made an effort to attend the Surf’s events, especially Big Band dances on Sundays and the Winter Dance Party, to meet new fans of the venue as well as reminisce with longtime patrons.
“They just enjoyed sampling all the music, energy and activities the Surf offered,” she said.
The Winter Dance Party — in its 39th year — was started in 1979 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens’ last performance at the Surf Ballroom.
The three — along with pilot Roger Peterson — died in a plane crash Feb. 2, 1959, about 5 miles north of Clear Lake.
Saturday’s grand finale will include Brenda Lee and Bobby Rydell, along with Winter Dance Party favorites Albert Lee & Friends; Linda Gail Lewis, sister of legendary rocker Jerry Lee Lewis; and Danny B. Harvey & Annie Marie Lewis.
Tickets to the Winter Dance Party, good Thursday through Saturday evenings, are $ 115 in advance or $ 125 at the door. The VIP tickets are sold out.
Lietz said tickets are still available but are expected to sell out.
Tickets may be purchased at www.surfballroom.com or by calling the Surf’s box office at 641-357-6151 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.