Slavka Kohout Button coached champion skaters at the Wagon Wheel


Slavka Kohout Button (1933-2024)

Slavka Kohout Button, a dynamo of energy and innovation, left an indelible mark on the world of figure skating. Her legendary career spanned eight decades. During Slavka’s tenure of 17 years as chief figure skating instructor at the Wagon Wheel in Rockton, Illinois, she elevated the skating school she started into one of the world’s premier training centers. One of her best known students was Janet Lynn, Olympic bronze medalist; two-time World Champion medalist and five time Senior Ladies U.S. National Champion.

She didn’t just run the figure skating school at the Wagon Wheel Ice Rink, she also managed the building, the summer skating school, the hockey team, the racing team and the curling programs in addition to hosting judges’ schools and USFSA competitions. Slavka produced seven major figure skating carnivals at “The Wheel” where she choreographed all the numbers, chose the music, the costumes and all the decorations. She even handled all the press for the events.

As if that wasn’t enough, Slavka learned not only how to drive the Zamboni but also how to fix it and the compressors and other various machinery in the building. 

Slavka died on March 17, 2024 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

A two-time Olympic team member, Slavka’s determination, work ethic, intellect, athleticism and artistry fueled her groundbreaking figure skating and coaching career, with her influence extending far beyond the rink. 

Born to Czech parents in a Czech neighborhood in Chicago on December 14, 1932, Slavka inherited a legacy of fortitude and creativity from her parents. Her father, a pioneer in the floral industry, established successful floral shops that burgeoned into greenhouses, trucks, billboards and the founding of what became FTD, while her mother's artwork earned her a place in the esteemed collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Despite not speaking English upon entering kindergarten, Slavka swiftly mastered the language without instruction, becoming a lifelong reader and avid learner.  She read the Wall Street Journal every day, even in her final years. This tenacity and thirst for knowledge would define her journey. 

Slavka’s first skating teacher was her father, who learned how to skate from a book. Even though girls were not encouraged to take up sports in that era, her father felt strongly that physical activity was important for health and life, regardless of gender. At the age of 7, she won her first midwestern sectional competition and gave her first solo figure skating exhibition at an ice show in Chicago. 

Filled with gumption, Slavka relocated alone to Canada at 8 years old to train with famed figure skating coach Otto Gold. She soared to become a two-time Midwestern Sectional Senior Ladies Champion and a bronze medalist in the U.S. Junior Ladies Championships behind Tenley Albright.  

At just 13, Slavka became the first person from Chicago to pass the Gold Figure Test, a feat achieved by only a handful in the U.S. She dazzled audiences with her energetic and graceful performances across the United States and Canada, captivating hearts with her avant-garde style. Her other tests included: the CSFSA 7th Test, the Gold Dance Test and the Free Dance Test with Peter Dunfield. 

Turning down a solo with the Ice Follies at 19, Slavka pursued coaching to put herself through college, with dreams of becoming a doctor. She went on to attend Northwestern University and then the University of Buffalo, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree. 

As Slavka’s coaching career skyrocketed, she emerged not only as a legendary figure skating coach but also as a groundbreaking choreographer – one of the best of her generation. Having attended the Interlochen Music Camp as a dancer, she had a deep understanding of music and movement. Slavka often remarked that it wasn’t relaxing for her to listen to music because her mind would be too busy creating choreography to whatever she was listening to. 

Her technique, driven by her artistic eye and her profound musicality, was supported by her ingenious understanding of body mechanics and flowing movement. This technique ensured that her skaters remained free from injury while accomplishing astonishing physical feats and performing musically well-defined, expressive and inspired choreography. 

Slavka pioneered off-ice training, unheard of at the time, incorporating gymnastics, yoga, dance and power skating into her training program. To boost their endurance and athletic capacity, she held competitions with her students to see who could do the most axels in a row. Their record was 100. 

A mentor as well as a visionary, Slavka’s former students have said that she didn’t just teach them how to be skaters, she taught them how to be ladies and gentlemen. Although she was strict and had high standards (she famously hired nuns to guard the dorms at night so that her skaters at the Wagon Wheel would not sneak out), her discipline was doled out with kindness and underpinned by her warm and generous heart.  

Besides Janet Lynn, over her 70-plus year coaching career Slavka coached luminaries such as Gordon McKellen (three-time U.S. National Champion), The Shibutanis (two-time Olympic bronze medalists, three-time World Champion medalists and two-time U.S. National Champions), Didier Gailhauget, Cindy Geltz, Roger Glenn, Mary Batdorf Scotvold, Kath Malmberg, and Shepherd Clark. She also worked with Olympians Scott Hamilton, John Curry, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, Karen Kadavy, Nicole Bobek, and the entire French Olympic team amongst many fortunate others.  

Slavka was a member of six World Teams and two Olympic Teams and an inductee into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame, the World Figure Sport Hall of Fame and the PSA Coaches Hall of Fame.  Her influence extended far beyond the rink, earning her recognition from the State of Connecticut for her 70-plus year career as a coach for multiple Olympians and world champions all while being a mentor and role model in the community. 

Once labeled “the most female figure skating coach ever seen,” Slavka always dressed impeccably. Her daughter Emily says, "One often couldn’t tell if she was headed to a cocktail party, meeting with royalty or going to a competition, such was her sense of style. Slavka definitely turned heads. Not just with her keen sense of fashion and her natural beauty but with her vivacious personality, her deep intellect, her boundless joy and her unexpected sense of humor."

Slavka always gave everything she had to those around her. This profound generosity included helping a couple to escape communist Czechoslovakia and bringing them to the Wagon Wheel, where she gave them jobs coaching figure skating and shielded them from inquisitions from the Czechoslovakian government. 

Married to two-time Olympic gold medalist Dick Button, Slavka was deeply devoted to her family. She took a joyful pause from skating to raise her children, Emily and Edward, before returning to coaching in the New York City area, inspiring and mentoring young skaters for over 30 years. 

Emily says, "Always game for an adventure, Slavka found fun and joy in even the most mundane tasks. She had profound gratitude for everyone and everything in the world and was a delight to all who knew her. Slavka always left everything better than she found it and for that we are grateful."

Slavka is survived by her children, Edward and Emily Button, and her brother, Edward Kohout.

In honor of Slavka’s profound impact on figure skating and her dedication to nurturing the "person" as well as the "skater," a scholarship has been established in her name to support up-and-coming figure skating coaches. The Slavka Kohout Button Scholarship will fund professional growth and development for coaches who seek to build, develop, and mentor athletes in the fashion pioneered by Slavka. Tax-deductible donations can be made on the Professional Skaters Foundation website or via check to:

Professional Skaters Foundation
c/o FMC Ice Sports
Attn: Slavka Kohout Button Scholarship
100 Schoosett Street #3
Pembroke, MA 02359

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