October 23, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
44°F

Rolling down memory lane

LAFAYETTE TWP. — Her bedroom window faced Chippewa Lake Amusement Park, and every summer morning Cindi Rudes awakened to the clacking of the rollercoaster chains.

“It was a great little place back then,” said Rudes, 57, who still lives in the township. “You just don’t want to give up on the memories.”

Rudes and other park enthusiasts have been meeting for six years to share those memories, most recently at the Village Inn, 5875 Longacre Drive.

They were brought together by an Internet group that started with Rudes posting photos of the park on Yahoo.com. Eight years ago, a friend suggested she start an online group to share photos and memories of the park. Since then, the group has grown to more than 400 members across the United States.

“Some of the people are younger and are intrigued by what the park used to be, and find it spooky or intriguing, and other people are like me — it was my childhood. I lived with the park in my backyard,” Rudes said.

The park opened in 1878 and closed in 1979. All remnants of the amusement park will be gone by the end of the year as developers prepare to demolish the site and make room for Chippewa Landing, a hotel, spa and resort project that will break ground this summer.

But those who loved the amusement park plan to keep it alive by sharing photographs, memorabilia and memories.

Chippewa Lake resident Bob Gardner, 66, collects old postcards that were written by people visiting the park.

Gardner began working at the park at age 14 in 1963 at Refreshment Stand B in the pavilion.

He said some things never change: People back then complained that beverages were overpriced, just as they do at amusement parks today.

The prices then were 40 cents for a Budweiser, 35 cents for a burger, a quarter for a hot-dog-on-a-stick and a nickel for a pack of gum.

“You’d have a solid group of people coming through all day until you were about to go nuts,” he said. “Sometimes you’d go through more than 100 cases of beer in one day.”

His parents and two brothers also worked there. The job didn’t pay much — Gardner recalled making about $20 a week at first — but it had its perks.

“I got off work and didn’t go home. I stayed to hang out and talk with my friends,” he said.

Along with the sounds of the rollercoaster, Rudes recalled falling asleep to the bands playing in the ballroom. Over the years, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy James and the Shondells, Pat Boone, Jimmy Dean and Alice Cooper performed there.

Jim Smith, 53, a Wadsworth native who now lives in Rittman, said concert venues today can’t quite capture the sound the way the old ballroom did. Watching bands perform there was one of his favorite things about the park.

“You’d see these people on ‘American Bandstand,’ and the next week you’d see them at Chippewa Lake,” he said.

He had been out of high school for three years when the park closed. Years later, he returned to the park for a tour and teared up as he was reminded of his late father taking him there as a child.

“A young kid was with his mother, and they said, ‘There’s nothing here,’ ” he said about the day he toured the park. “I said, ‘I’m sorry you missed it.’

“I don’t know — there’s just nothing like that around anymore.”

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@medina-gazette.com.