By Paula @ Holiday World

Hosting the Golden Ticket Awards was a blast.

It was well over a year ago that we started bugging Amusement Today publisher Gary Slade that we wanted to host the Golden Ticket Awards again. Turns out he already had us in mind. (Surely it had nothing to do with him wanting to ride this new coaster of ours…)

We hosted the first awards program five years ago. Prior to that, it was an announcement that was publicized via a news release from the Amusement Today offices in Texas. In 2001, we talked Gary into holding a news conference here for that announcement.

One other park attended back then. Our friend Jeff from Kings Island.

My what a difference five years makes! Jeff was back again, this time in his new position with Schlitterbahn water park. And a whole bunch of other parks were represented as well, Dollywood, Kings Island, Busch Gardens, Cedar Point, Sea World, and more.

So we made a weekend out of it.

Before we go much farther, let’s talk about Janice.

She was my partner in crime in planning the awards show. After a wonderful career in PR at Cedar Point, Janice retired to care for her cute little son, Matthew, and has picked up some freelance work with Amusement Today.

Last weekend was a homecoming of sorts for Janice.

You see, Janice is originally from Santa Claus, Indiana. She grew up working at Santa Claus Land and then Holiday World. She had an internship at Opryland and then went on to Cedar Point.

I asked her for a photo from way-back-when.

Apparently Janice has the home version of PhotoShop.

Can’t help but wonder whom Janice cropped out of this photo.

Maybe someone in the Witness Protection Program?

Janice is thoughtful that way.

So thoughtful, in fact, that she had to be moved out of our Games Department long ago.

It seems her heart would melt when a child didn’t win, so she’d say, “Close enough!” and would hand over that season’s prize.

Eventually, when it became obvious she was giving away the prizes; Janice was moved to a less budget-sensitive department.

Holidog gives away hugs, so that was a safe place to send her.

That was in the mid-’80s, during Holidog’s more slender years. During his disco phase.

What’s not to love?

Now it’s Janice’s mom who works at Holiday World, at the Front Gate.

Janice, Brian, and little Matthew like visiting her old stomping ground. Matthew’s already figured out who should get his attention.

Each park that hosts the Golden Ticket Awards program has added its own twist. It’s not really a competition, but it’s nice to leave your mark.

So Will, Mrs. Koch, Chris, John and I met back in the winter to start scheming.

One of our suggestions was to continue to take the announcements into the arena of becoming an awards “show.”

Step One was to line up “presenters.”

Janice and Gary liked our suggestions and tweaked the list to reflect folks from throughout the industry.

Here they are, after the festivities:

In the back row, from the left, are Chris Gray from Great Coasters, International (GCI) … Nick Laskaris from Mount Olympus Water & Theme Park (his Hades wooden coaster won Best New Ride last year … so he presented in that category this year), Jeff Pike from GCI (I hope I didn’t get Chris and Jeff backwards; I’ve no doubt they’ll straighten me out if I goofed). Next is The Gravity Group‘s Mike Graham and then David Blazer from SRO Associates, a show production company in Texas. David brought the house down when he announced that the park that had won in his category wasn’t present to pick up their award, so he’d have it up on eBay within a few hours. Happily, only two parks were “no shows”; most parks sent multiple representatives to take part in the weekend’s events.

Next to David is Rick Root, the president of the World Waterpark Association. Not sure what happened to Charlie Bray, the president of IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions) but he was also a speaker and presenter.

In the front row, that’s Janice on the left. She presented the Best Landscaping Awards along with our own Frieda Foertsch. At 95 years old, Frieda still drives a stick-shift to work. And when she came on stage, the audience gave her a standing ovation. It was so touching when the Busch Gardens Europe communications director (who admitted to not being able to even “grow a weed”) accepted her Golden Ticket and kissed Frieda tenderly on the cheek. And when it was time to announce the Best Landscaping in a Waterpark, Frieda was delighted: “Oh, a good German name–Schlitterbahn!”

Next to Janice is Mark Rosenzweig from Zamperla (creator of the Howler roller coaster and HallowSwings to name just a few), Tim Baldwin from Amusement Today, and Carole Sanderson, the president of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Back to the planning stages, we wanted to come up with a way to make the show our own. To do something that no other park would do (sort of along the lines of the “Free Unlimited Soft Drinks” concept).

Let’s see … surely, we reasoned, no other park would be willing to humiliate themselves.

So we put together a little ditty to sing to the crowd.

No, we didn’t rely on our talented park performers; we assembled the “B Team”: Will, Mrs. Koch, Will’s wife Lori, Matt and me.

Matt is our controller. Who knew an accountant could carry anything but beans in a bucket?

It was gratifying to see that so many folks from out in the park wanted to watch. They added great enthusiasm and a lot of body heat to the Holiday Theater.

Beth, from Dayton, Ohio, was in the audience. She emailed me to give me the grand news she’d captured the opening song on video and posted it at

Thanks, Beth. Nice to know our great oeuvre will live on via the Internet. Mighty thoughtful of you…

As we moved into the various award categories, it was fun to witness the charm, humility, pride and excitement of the different park representatives.

Later, many of the winners posed together for photos.

Can’t resisting posting this photo as well.

Mrs. Koch is clowning around as the winners get into place.

That’s Cedar Point’s general manager, John Hildebrandt, in the yellow shirt, looking on. Wonder what’s going through his mind?

Toward the end of the show, Will’s wife, Lori, came back on stage to sing the following lyrics to the tune of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”:

I Hope You Ride

I hope you never lose your childlike wonder
You get a thrill as coasters fly by
Loud as thunder
May you never take one single Guest for granted
Not even the one who just now raved and ranted

I hope you feel great pride
Knowing you entertain a nation
Whenever one train leaves, bring another in the station
Every menu item’s got to be deep-fried
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

I hope you never fail to hear the happy laughter
And know those memories are treasured ever after
Even though the work is hard … the hours long
You know after just one season … you belong.

Don’t let line-jumping cretins
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
When we say we’re one big family
Love’’s implied
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

I hope you feel great pride
Knowing you entertain a nation
Whenever one train leaves, bring another in the station
Every menu item’s got to be deep-fried
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

And to close the ceremony, Will presented Gary Slade with a framed plate.

That’s right, a plate.

A plate from the Christmas Room at Santa Claus Land.

We didn’t realize till later that Gary collects old plates … so he got sort of choked up.

So much so, he didn’t notice the little washerwoman (a la Carol Burnett) who came in the front door with her mop and bucket to clean up the theater.

Gary kept talking and the audience, who could clearly see it was Mrs. Koch under the apron and mob cap, started giggling.

It wasn’t till Mrs. Koch came up on the stage with her mop that Gary was reduced to a stunned silence.

And then, she sang.

I’m so glad we’ve had this time together…

The little song didn’t end with a tug on the ear, though. The Queen of Clean blew a kiss.

And the audience cheered.

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