Monday, May 10, 2010

Scott and Carol Present - Silver Dollar City, 50 Years of Family Fun

For anything, whether it is a marriage or a company, to survive until its golden anniversary is a tremendous accomplishment. When you consider that it all started with just a hole in the ground, and now has become internationally recognized, the scope of the history becomes clearer.

More than your average hole, Marble Cave, now renamed Marvel Cave began as a mining venture because the early explorers thought the limestone in the walls was marble.

After lowering themselves 200 feet by rope and landing on a pile of guano, or bat crap, they masked their disappointment by excavating tons of the stuff to sell to farmers and gunpowder makers.

They even lowered beasts of burden down by rope to do the heavy hauling. The town of Marmaros, the Greek word for marble, grew around the entrance to the cave.

First the guano ran out, then the money ran out, and then the town ran out during the 1880’s. But word of the great cave had spread, so it was opened for public tours in 1894. Fannabelle Nickel was one of the early guides for the cave, starting her career in 1918. By this time the cave was known as Marvel Cave due to the size of its chambers.

The Cathedral Room is large enough that a hot air balloon made ascension in the early days. Sherry Nickel, Fannebelle’s daughter, married Jack Hershend, Mary and Hugo Hershend eldest son in the Cathedral Room on June 26, 1954. Hugo died of a heart attack on November 14, 1955, and thereafter it was up to Mary, Jack and Peter to run the family business. Weekend long square dance parties were all the rage during the 1950’s and 1959 saw the reconstruction of Marmaros, for the 1960 season.

Mary Hershend said many times, “Pete runs Silver Dollar City, Jack runs Marvel Cave, and I run the two boys.” Part of her legacy lives on in the mission statement,”Creating family memories worth repeating.” She stressed guest satisfaction, historical accuracy, and cleanliness. Silver Dollar City has won the IAAPA Applause Award, a Themed Entertainment Associations Classic Award, and a Golden Ticket for Friendliest Staff. The quest for excellence will surely continue.

JoDee Hershend, Peter Hershend’s wife recalls Pete’s stories about the opening. “Pete had been traveling all over for most of a month, stopping back every so often, to do television and radio shows, or anyone else who would talk to him. He and Jack wondered if anyone would pay $2.50 for admission. Seeing all the cars lined up was a big relief. They both slept a lot better after that day.” The first year of operation Silver Dollar City had over 125,000 guests, as compared to the two million they host annually today.

Sherry Hershend’s favorite things are the craftsmanship activities. “I used to sell dulcimers for years and I sold a lot of them.” Jack says, “She sold them because she used to give lessons on a bale of hay sitting right next to the young men, that’s how she sold so many.”

Pete has been the face of the operation, while Jack attends to strategic plans and makes the wheels turn smoothly. One of Pete’s favorite memories was Luke, the street sweeper. “He used to ask the parent’s permission to give kids who had difficulties a present. It was a silver dollar out of his own pocket. I will never forget how lucky I feel every time I think about him, and all the other wonderful people we work with. They are the heart of Silver Dollar City.”

Both Pete and Jack have both been inducted into the IAAPA Hall of Fame. Jack did share some thoughts during the celebration, “Pete and I had given our lives to the Lord in different ways at about the same time. We had a board meeting, the both of us, and decided we serve the Lord through this business.” That too is an important part of the company.

Joel Manby, of Undercover Boss fame, stresses the servant leadership culture. “We treat people like we want to be treated,” he says. “We hire friendly people who are pleasant to be around. We can train them in the skills we need. We also value previous success.”

The party provided lots of entertainment. The Haygoods started if off, reminiscing of playing SDC in 1993.

The Mabe family played opening day in 1960, and some second and third generation members now working as the Baldknobbers did a couple of songs. Andy Williams attended, as did Shoji Tabuchi took time from golfing to honor the Hershends.

Congressman Roy Blunt and Governor Jay Nixon were there. Branson Mayor Raeann Presley recount that she spent a summer selling tickets outside the gate. All of the politicians came with proclamations.

There were many things, a surprise visit from Louise Mandrell. Video appearances from Dolly Parton, the Hershends’ business partner back east, Charlie Daniels, Randy Travis, and a host of others that Storme Warren talked to at the Country Music Award.

Three of the original Lennon Sisters performed.

Bucky Heard, alumnus from the Shenanigans show of 1994 in Silver Dollar City sang the Branson “anthem,” Listen to the Music. The Branson Blues Brothers were the closing act.

Like any birthday, you always have to have cake. With the Help of Taste of Home, the winning cake is named Chocolate RiverBlast Raspberry. Created by Rebekah Radewahn of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, this is both amazingly good, and it looks good all decorated too. “I was really surprised when it won,” says Rebekah, “It only took fourth place at the state fair.” Well it took first place at Silver Dollar City. It was so good Scott got back in line for another piece. The park gave out cake both Saturday and Sunday to the guests.

Brad Thomas, the General Manager of Hershend’s Branson properties closed the event with some appropriate words. “We are truly blessed to have you all here celebrating with us. Thank you for coming, to God be the glory.” A fitting close to the festivities.

After most of the guests departed, the Hershend family gathered on the stage for a couple of photos together. Creating family memories indeed.

Happy 50th to the Hershend family and Silver Dollar City. Thanks for the many memories you have helped create for our family!