The Golden Ticket Awards | Presented by Amusement Today

The Golden Ticket Awards | Presented by Amusement Today

The Golden Ticket Awards | Presented by Amusement Today

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Legends

Honoring the Best of the Best in the industry...

People become legends because of their major accomplishments or their long-running status of noteworthy effort.

Over the past two decades, Amusement Today has brought attention to The Best of the Best, acknowledging parks, manufacturers and the rides that have risen to the top.

Amusement Today‘s Golden Ticket Awards LEGENDS recognize not only individuals , but also facilities and attractions that have set the standard for excellence and being the “Best of the Best” within the amusement industry.

Legend recipients have special Golden Tickets created to illustrate this renowned status and have their achievement on display at all future Golden Ticket Awards events.

After more than 30 years in the industry, Larry Bill has taken a lot of roller coaster rides. Unlike enthusiasts, he can say he was involved in building those rides.

Larry Bill has been involved in an estimated 75 wooden roller coaster designs in

nine countries since his start in the amusement industry in the late 1980s. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. For many years, his work was done for Custom Coasters International (CCI). He joined the company in 1992 following a few years of work with Curtis D. Summers, Inc. When CCI closed its doors in 2002, four of the engineers from CCI decided to form a new company. Bill is one of the founding members of the The Gravity Group, LLC.

“In many ways, Larry took us under his wing and helped us grow into the engineers that we are today,” said Korey Kiepert, engineer and principal. “Early on in The Gravity Group, park owners mainly wanted to talk to Larry, but he was always first to include us in conversations and bring us into the fray. To him, The Gravity Group wasn’t just about one person but about the entire team. We all worked together and shared equally in any accolades for a ride.”

“As we have worked with Larry for many years, he has guided us in many ways,” said Michael Graham, engineer and principal. “Directly and indirectly, he made sure we knew that we were a team and that engineering roller coasters was not just the glamour of designing the ride path. He also was an advocate for regarding everyone on the team as part of the excellence of a roller coaster. Inside our team, Larry was known for some phrases that shaped this attitude of hard work. While some of these phrases are familiar, they took specific meaning as they created memories of particular projects and of moments in time.”

Such as?

“Dishwashing.” Bill made every new employee understand that there is a lot of “lower” regarded work involved with each project that everyone on the team will need to complete for each ride.

“Lay the lead.” When he started in a huge room of drafting tables, making drawings was a very time consuming, manual drafting process. His superiors used to say this phrase to him.

“Bulk, son, bulk.” When it came to creating design calculation packages on whether to include some of the tiniest details, this phrase always came up in discussion. Bill heard this in his early years, and it never got old.

A favorite of Graham’s: “All hands on deck.”

“First, as there was a huge amount of design, engineering and construction work required for each roller coaster, Larry made it clear that there were times when we needed ‘all hands on deck’ to get past particular hurdles,” Graham recalled. “As the vast majority of the work to design and engineer a roller coaster can be repetitive and mundane, his other phrases played into this effort.”

“We have this video that my wife took after my first day at Custom Coasters,” said Kiepert. “In it, I told her about Larry and ‘wearing many hats’ and ‘dishwashing.’ I think that this mentality has really helped us as we have grown our small business. Instead of just trying to do one job, we have all stepped up and had to do many different jobs, from taking care of the trash to ordering office supplies.”

Throughout his career, Bill enjoyed meeting park officials. One for whom he had great respect was Holiday World’s Will Koch. Three roller coasters were designed for the park, starting with The Raven, which in many respects put the park on the national map when it opened in 1995. He remembers surveying the landscape with Koch and Jeff Mason trying to preserve as many trees as possible. The Legend was a wooden coaster that opened five years later to welcome in the new millennium, and The Voyage opened in 2006. Both The Raven and The Voyage have taken the Golden Ticket for Best Wood Coaster in their operational lives. In 2021, all three wooden coasters are on the chart of top 25 coasters.

Figuring out how Hoosier Hurricane would fit into Indiana Beach’s unique site is also a great memory for Bill. The ride was designed in 1993 and opened the following year. “Electric rock” was a term Bill used when laying out the Hoosier Hurricane coaster. They had brought a “portable” computer that was a heavy all-in-one machine with a small screen. That term is indicative of how far technology has come and its effects on how things are done today.

In its close-to-10 years of existence, Custom Coasters designed 34 scream machines, the majority of which involved Bill on the team. One of the driving forces of The Gravity Group, often inspired by Bill, was the sense of teamwork. The dissolution of Custom Coasters was a time of uncertainty, but the joined forces of the engineers involved was a first step once again.

“In addition to Larry’s hard work ethic and his view of teamwork, when we formed The Gravity Group, he was a strong proponent of the group concept that was collaborative and not tied to individual heroics,” said Graham. “As most coaster companies are small businesses, he also made sure any potential employees understood that we ‘wore multiple hats’ and the expectation was that everyone would need to be well-rounded and called upon for random responsibilities.”

One of Bill’s other phrases makes Graham smile. “Stirring the pot and banging the sides, which meant continuing to aggravate something that should be left alone,” he said.

Since forming The Gravity Group, the company has been involved with 28 more roller coaster designs. A sister company, GravityKraft, was also formed to manufacture the Timberliner trains, which is marketed as the industry’s only steering roller coaster car. They have become the signature rolling stock on Gravity Group coasters.

Among The Gravity Group’s accolades are Golden Ticket Awards. When the category of Best New Ride was introduced in 2005, the company took the first win with Hades at Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park. This was followed with The Voyage and two years later with Ravine Flyer II at Waldameer.

Over the years, the company has built large thrillers and several family-sized coasters. Even with years of experience and successful projects, Bill had no problem remaining quietly in the background.

“Larry wasn’t one to step into the spotlight,” noted Kiepert. “He was always very thoughtful and wanted to share credit with everyone involved.” 

Graham added, “Larry was a steadfast, hard worker who would always jump in to help in any way he could. We have been very privileged to have had worked with Larry for over 20 years, and we think we got more irritated than he did when people called him Bill instead of Larry.”

Amusement Today is pleased to add Larry Bill as the newest Golden Ticket Award Legend.

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When Pamela Landwirth was handed the reins of the Give Kids The World Village 25 years ago, she knew she had found her calling.

rowing machine benefitsAfter 16 years with the Walt Disney World Company and additional consultant work with Hard Rock Café, Landwirth’s expertise boasted an acumen in human resources, strategic planning and operations management, among other talents in her skill set.

She began her career at Give Kids The World, Inc., in 1992. Inspired by the mission set in place by her husband, Henri Landwirth, she was chosen to lead the Village, located in Kissimmee, in 1995. While the couple’s marriage did not remain intact, their vision and lifelong friendship remained strong. When Henri stepped away from the board in the late 1990s, he knew Pamela would steer the Village in the direction it needed to go.

Under her leadership, Give Kids The World Village has seen exponential growth, and each expansion brings further happiness to challenged families. Growing from 32 to 84 acres, the number of family villas has increased from 56 when she stepped into the role of president and CEO in 1995 to 166 today. Eleven new venues have been added, including Julie’s Safari Theatre, Matthew’s Boundless Playground, the Amberville Train Station and Towne Hall. What she finds most rewarding is the number of families served at the facility each year, which has almost doubled under her tenure.

“Pam never asks anyone to do something she wouldn’t do herself,” said Susie Storey, director, global communications, IAAPA. “It’s not unusual to see Pam making pizzas for families, working alongside volunteers or assisting the housekeeping team. Pam’s heart and soul is at Give Kids The World and she works to inspire her team while giving hope to the wish families who stay there.”

Each year, as IAAPA Expo begins, Landwirth is one of the principal speakers addressing the industry during the Kick-Off Event. Her poise and smile exemplify the welcome to industry attendees who have traveled from around the world. Serving on numerous nonprofit boards, she is a highly sought-after speaker in the nonprofit world.

“Pam’s leadership through this difficult year has been essential to the Village,” said Development Director Steven Amos, Give Kids The World Village. “Her positivity and ingenuity has kept hope alive for wish children waiting for their wishes, our staff and volunteers. She continues to innovate, thinking of new and creative ways to inspire hope for our families through her Boxes of Hope, personal FaceTime calls and postcards. We’re honored to have her leading our team through this time.”

Contrary to many typical CEOs, there is no job Landwirth will not do. Her unfailing dedication serves as inspiration not only to her staff and corps of volunteers (which have quadrupled under her direction), but to the industry at large. For her exemplary dedication in sharing the amusement industry to families so desperately in need of it, coupled with her leadership through the most trying of circumstances, Amusement Today honors Pamela Landwirth as a Golden Ticket Award Legend.

BEST CAROUSEL started out as a rotating category as the new millennium began before becoming an annual designation in 2007. Over that window of time, the undefeated champ is the Grand Carrousel at Knoebels Amusement Resort. The Golden Ticket was awarded a total of 14 times in this category.

“The Grand Carrousel will always be the ‘Heart and Soul’ of Knoebels,” said Leanna Knoebel Muscato. Located near the very center, as the park has grown up around her, she holds many memories for our guests. When a family comes to visit, they all can ride together. Some will choose to reach for the rings, and others are happy riding a jumper horse, while grandparents may choose a relaxing chariot ride, all to the tunes of the antique band organs. It is not unusual to hear a parent or a grandparent pointing out their own favorite horse to their children or grandchildren.”

Introduced in 2008, the BEST FUNHOUSE – WALKTHROUGH ATTRACTION award has shone a spotlight on those attractions that people don’t ride, but experience from strolling through the sights and entertainment within. Kennywood’s Noah’s Ark has taken the award every year since 2010. During that time, the park has continued to invest in the 1936 Philadelphia Toboggan Company attraction. The kitschy funhouse has become a beloved part of each visit to the historic park.

“Even within our many rare and historic rides, Noah’s Ark stands out as a unique experience,” says Kennywood General Manager Jerome Gibas. “We’re thankful for the support of the Golden Ticket Award voters to make Noah’s Ark a nine-time champion as the BEST FUNHOUSE/WALKTHROUGH ATTRACTION, and grateful to the team at Amusement Today for designating the Ark a LEGEND. Noah’s Ark certainly is a living legend with Kennywood, and to our guests who happily climb aboard as frequently now as when the Ark first set sail in 1936.”

Since BEST INDOOR ROLLER COASTER became an annual category in 2007, Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios Orlando has taken the award the last 11 years. With a dynamic roller coaster built by Premier Rides combined with immersive theming from the creative minds at Universal, Revenge of the Mummy has become a must-do for every guest visiting the park.

The indoor coaster with a dynamic storyline and startling “fake out” ending opened in 2004.

“Revenge of the Mummy is one of those experiences our guests love — and keep coming back to enjoy. It combines great storytelling with an incredible ride and amazing special effects. And our guests really feel like they are in the middle of their own adventure,” said Rich Costales, executive vice president of resort operations, Universal Studios Orlando.

BEST SEASIDE PARK was introduced in 2007 and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk claimed the Golden Ticket 11 out of 12 years. Delighting beach goers and vacationers since 1907, the Boardwalk is anchored by the classic 1924 Giant Dipper and its Looff Carousel dating to 1911.

“Winning the Golden Ticket for BEST SEASIDE PARK over so many years and now retiring as a LEGEND is a huge honor,” said Tom Canfield, Vice President, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. “The Golden Tickets have helped showcase our park’s importance in the industry and made our employees and guests proud.  It was a very fun ride!”

If ever an individual created a sea change in the amusement industry, it was George Millay. As the leading creative force behind the SeaWorld theme park chain and the father of the water park, Millay had a vision that was more than just adding water to fun — it revolutionized our business by using our most vital natural resource to engage parkgoers and enhance the interactivity of their experience.

Water, or at least his close proximity to it, was a constant in Millay’s life. Born in 1929 in San Diego, he grew up in Ocean Beach, San Francisco and Hawaii and served in the Navy for three years. Upon graduating from UCLA in 1955, he worked briefly as a stockbroker before he and a business partner opened the Reef Restaurant in Long Beach in 1956. That eatery became the cornerstone of Specialty Restaurants Corporation, with which Millay remained involved for another decade.

Even while enjoying that success, Millay partnered with two UCLA fraternity brothers, Dave DeMotte and Milt Shedd, and the wildlife curator at Marineland in Palos Verdes, Ken Norris, to begin developing a marine life park called SeaWorld on San Diego’s
Mission Bay. Today, half a century after that landmark opened in 1964, the
company encompasses 11 destination and regional parks across the U.S.

Millay’s enthusiasm for the business of fun did not stop with SeaWorld. At the start of the 1970s, he assisted with the development of Magic Mountain theme park north of Los Angeles. And in 1974, he formed another company,
Leisure Marine, in San Diego, with which he explored the feasibility of a new type of park featuring water-based attractions. From this, the national Wet ‘n Wild water park chain emerged.

“Water-oriented activities are among the fastest-growing forms of recreation in America,” Millay said at the time. “People are demanding activities that they can participate in.”

Millay left us in 2006, but he also has left us with a legacy of entertainment that has fulfilled the public’s desire for participatory fun while also promoting conservation and showcasing the natural wonders of our world. Like water is to humanity, his concepts will remain a life force in our industry — and for this, Amusement Today honors George Millay with its 2014 Legend Series Award.

One man, one vision, one very impressive career.

Hired in 1972 in the foods division at Cedar Point, even Toledo-native Richard “Dick” Kinzel could not have predicted the path this new amusement career was about to take him on.

In just three years, Kinzel would be promoted to director of park operations at Cedar Point. His hard work would soon  pay  off  again when he was promoted to become general manager of the newly acquired Valleyfair in 1978. It was at Valleyfair that he laid the groundwork that would soon change the entire amusement industry.

In 1986, Kinzel was promoted to President and CEO of Cedar Fair, L.P., the parent company of the company’s two parks.

Seeing that the historic Cedar Point resort numbers were flat, Kinzel know something big and cutting edge had to be found to bring the crowds back to the Point.

That vision would lead him to Arrow Development and the birth of a new wave of steel coaster wars. The end result was the introduction of the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster, the 205-foot tall Magnum XL-200 hypercoaster. Yes, even new coaster terminology was ushered in.

The guests came to Cedar Point in record numbers year after year. That success would let the company grow in new ways never visioned.

More record-setting coasters in the 310-foot tall Millennium force and the 420- foot tall Top Thrill Dragster would make their place in the history books.

Not content with just two parks, Kinzel’s vision was to expand the CedarFair family the way Six Flags had expand- ed theirs.

The acquisition of Dorney Park in 1992, Worlds of Fun  in 1995, Knott’s  Berry  Farm in 1997, Michigan’s Adventure in 2001 and Geauga Lake in 2001 were all but building blocks for what was on the horizon. Kinzel shocked the entire amusement  industry in 2006 when Cedar Fair was able to pull off the acquisition of Paramounts five parks. That purchase moved Cedar Fair into one of the top 5 amusement companies in the world. The company grew from revenues of $100 million in 1986 to revenues  of  more than $977 million in 2010.

Under his watch the company also gained the  rights to the Peanuts brand of characters with its purchase of Knott’s Berry Farm.

Kinzel’s vision  has  not just been roller coasters and rides. He has enhanced properties with resort lodging. He has built and expanded waterparks. He has entertained guests with  state-of-the-art night shows and  special events. And not forgetting the younger set, he has assembled impressive kid’s ar- eas in all his properties.

And through all this, he has maintained  his  proper- ties with new paint, new walkways, new buildings and new sections. The Cedar Fair parks are not aging, but are still in growth mode as all well man- aged amusement facilities should be.

As Richard Kinzel nears his retirement date from the amusement industry, Amusement Today takes this time to honor him as our first living Legend, 2011.

When Amusement Today started its Legends Series last year, the goal was to honor those  who  had  an  impact on the amusement industry decades ago. It was meant to bring their name, their legacy and their accomplishments back in the news, so that we never forget their contribu- tions and the ground work laid that has helped build our parks and industry into what they are today.

What we didn’t envision, was losing one of our dearest of friends, industry leader, this year at the young age of 48.

Will Koch, served as Chief Executive Officer of Koch Development Corporation, the parent company of Holiday World Theme Park and Splashin’ Safari Water Park, a true until complications from diabetes took him from us far too soon.

Under Will’s vision, he took the Santa Claus, Indiana park and grew it into a region- al destination. The park added three wooden roller coasters, built a waterpark, added record-breaking rides and became the first park to offer free soda to guests. The guests love it so much, the park now exceeds the one million attendance mark on an annual basis.

The Golden Ticket Awards ceremony that we enjoy today, is the result of Will  Koch  and his vision for the industry. His offer to Amusement Today in 2001 to conduct an ‘official’ ceremony on the stage of a Holiday World theater pushed the Golden Tickets to another level, and launched an official awards event.

Amusement Today is honored to present its second Legends Series award not only in the memory of Will Koch, but to his visions that were, and still are, golden.

Will Koch, thank you for all you did for our industry, for the lives you touched and for the support and encouragement you gave to Amusement Today. You are a Legend in so many ways.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

That is a quote that is inscribed on a plaque behind the desk of Jack Krantz, the late founder of Adventureland Park in Des Moines, Iowa.

For our amusement industry those words ring home. The people of this industry, like Jack was until his death  in Jan. 2006, are full of enthusiasm equal only to the rides and thrills found in the parks.

Jack Krantz, seeing the need for a quality family amusement In Des Moines, Iowa, started construction in 1973 on a piece of former airport property that once saw a 1924 landing by Charles Lindbergh. By August 1974, a portion of Adventureland opened to the public with its main street and a handful of rides. Its opening was delayed only by a small tornado which passed through the park that July.

Adventureland’s first full season arrived in 1975 and thanks to the addition of a skyride from the World’s Fair in Spokane, Washington and numerous other rides, the park was off and running.

Running so well, Adventureland was able to add its first big ride in 1978, a wooden roller coaster. One year later it moved rides from the aging Riverview Amusement Park, also in Des Moines.

Under Jack’s guidance, the park continued to grow into Iowa’s largest tourist attrac- tion complete with a hotel and campground and more than $60 million in reinvestment into the 180-acre resort.

Those who knew Jack, knew his love for the amusement industry. He listened, he learned and then he passed on his success and knowledge to others.

In AT’s debut year of 1997, Jack’s wisdom on the industry and his financial views were just part of the reason Amusement Today survived through its start up phase.

Jack may be gone, but the business sense he instilled into his family members running the park today, keeps his vision, his enthusiasm alive for all to enjoy.

Amusement Today is honored to present its first Legends Series award in the memory of Jack Krantz.