SANTA CLAUS - Two days after Holiday World closed for the season, members of the Gorman family lifted their hands high and shouted loudly as they raced down the hill of the Pilgrims Plunge water ride.
They're among the owners and administrators of nine family-owned amusement parks across the country, including Holiday World, that meet each year to visit each other's parks. The group, titled Family Owned and Managed, visited Holiday World & Splashin' Safari on Wednesday to see what the park has to offer; try the rides and talk to employees.
The last time the annual meeting was held in Santa Claus was at least 10 years ago.
Steve Gorman, president of Waldameer & Water World in Erie, Pa., said the experience gives group members a chance to ask each other questions concerning issues they have in common, such as how much they pay for insurance, which rides are worth buying and how they create a positive atmosphere for guests and employees.
The parks have common concerns because they're all family owned, but they're far enough apart geographically that they're not competitors and don't mind sharing information, he said.
As they walked through the park, Gorman chatted with Holiday World spokeswoman Paula Werne about the discount that Holiday World gives to women who are pregnant because they can't ride as many rides as the other guests. He is considering such a discount for his park.
The annual meeting also has allowed group members to become like family, caring about each other's professional and personal lives, said Nancy Gorman, vice president for Waldameer and Steve Gorman's wife.
Nancy Gorman said one of the greatest advantages to running a family-owned park, rather than a corporate one is the close connection with guests.
"It has a personal touch to it because a lot of times the owners are the ones out on the midway in contact with the people and they have their hands in a lot of different areas," she said.
Steve Gorman added that they also know their employees better because the park is family-owned.
"We hire them. We train them. We know their parents," he said.
Pat Koch, Holiday World's director of values, agreed, and she smiled at pregnant water park manager Jennifer Rich as she operated the Wildebeest ride for the visitors.
"That baby's not ready yet?" she asked.
"No, but I'm ready for it," Rich answered.
Rich said she has enjoyed the atmosphere of working in a family-owned park since 1998 because she sees owners and managers in the park every day and knows she can easily talk to someone in charge if she has a problem.
Eric Anderson, co-owner of Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Conn., is glad that and his family get to make their own decisions about rides and expansions without having to get approval from a board.
"We do what we are capable of doing when we're capable of doing it," he said.
Anderson, who soaked his clothes on the Wildebeest, said taxes and government regulations are challenges to expansion.
Adrienne Rhodes, president of Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park in Chattanooga, Tenn., said it can also be difficult to please all guests of every size, preference and background. She enjoys meeting with other people who deal with similar matters to get ideas for meeting those challenges.
Koch, who married the son of the founder of Santa Claus Land, Holiday World's predecessor, said it can be hard not to spend all her time at the park during summers, but the hours are worth it to make guests happy and honor the family's vision.
"It's tradition," she said on behalf of the family-owned park representatives. "It was important to our father or grandfather or relative, and we want to carry that tradition on. It's not just a job."
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