Friday, March 9, 2007

More on Bob Ott

This is from today's Morning Call:

March 9, 2007

Dorney Park has lost its most loyal fan

Dorney Park lost its most loyal fan last week when Bob Ott passed away. Bob's ties to the amusement park were secure when Bob met Sally Plarr at a Castle Garden dance in 1934. Sally was the coat check girl, working for her father, Bob Plarr, the owner of the park. As Bob tells it, the couple sneaked in a few dances to the music of Ted Wheems and his Orchestra, and ''We've been dancing around together ever since.''

As attrition occurred in the Plarr family, Bob and Sally ended up being the owners of the park and along with their son Bobby, they managed every aspect of the operation as a family corporation. Bob became chairman of the board and son Bobby became president. Sally was the corporate secretary. Under their leadership the park grew and made possible the amusement giant we know today as Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

Bob grew up in East Allentown and attended Ritter Elementary School and Harrison-Morton Junior High School. As an adult he openly shared his pride in his H-M heritage. Like the late jazz saxophonist Willie Restum, he would sing the Harrison-Morton Fight Song with the slightest provocation. Both men are enshrined on the walls of the school in the H-M Hall of Fame.

Bob knew every nut and bolt in Dorney Park – if someone points to the old Coaster (The roller coaster now called the Thunder Hawk) Bob says, ''I personally painted every inch of that and, checking for problems, I walked the entire route every morning.'' The Merry-Go-Round – ''I lost most of my hand in the mechanism during a stupid accident.''

One of Bob's most-anticipated and popular Dorney Park stories was about the ''sinking'' of the Showboat in the lake near Castle Garden. Patrons crowded to one side of the boat watching passing swans and water overflowed the floor of the ship, sinking it in 18 inches of water. Although there was no real danger and no injuries resulted, claims for expensive damaged clothing, shoes, watches and even a girdle were settled by the park's insurance following the event.

Bob watched from afar as major changes were made in the facility. He admired what Cedar Fair was able to accomplish. Bob defended the park advances in the face of critics who told him firmly, ''It is not the same as it used to be.'' Bob's reply always was, ''Nothing is the same as it used to be – it would have changed if I was still at the park.'' He beamed with pride as he recalled planting trees many years ago which are still there on the park property. And, he was proud of the improved safety for patrons when the old road through the middle of the park was shut down. Cedar Fair managers respected Bob and his lineage of park history, constantly inviting him to special park events.

Bob and I had a unique friendship over the past five years. I rode Bob's coattails celebrating the popularity of the history book ''Images of America, Dorney Park.'' What followed could never have been foreseen. The two of us were invited to book signings and personal appearances to discuss the book, the park, and park history. Over and over again, Bob told audiences his memories of ''the good old days'' at Dorney Park. Some of the audiences had us back twice, and Bob had so many stories, he rarely told the same ones twice! We joked that I had heard his speech more than 80 times and never heard the same speech twice.

I had the pleasure of witnessing Bob being greeted by friends from the past – folks he had not seen for decades. They all cherished the opportunity to visit with Bob one more time. A common beginning was ''You won't remember me, but I worked for you at the (something) stand or ride.'' With that, a new sharing of stories began as each story bounced off the previous one.

A few years ago, the amusement park industry honored Bob with a lengthy article in its monthly magazine, along with a full-page picture of Bob. They called him ''a legend'' in the industry. The label was right on target. Bob carried it well and often joked with us by reminding us that we were in the presence of a legend. All of us who knew the Legend were proud of that association, and are going to miss those Dorney Park and Harrison-Morton stories. May the Bob and Sally Ott love story never end.