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Coasting down memory lane

Former employees of Idora Park gather

Kim Mancino, left, and Linda Sprankle, right, look through photo albums filled with pictures of Idora Park during an employee reunion at the Tyler History Center in Youngstown. The event drew a large crowd as old friends and coworkers reminisced and reconnected with former coworkers.

YOUNGSTOWN — It was a rollercoaster of emotions Saturday as former employees of Youngstown’s iconic Idora Park gathered at the Tyler Mahoning Valley History Center to reminisce and reunite with faces from the past.

The park, which dated back to 1899, grew steadily over decades until it became a viable competitor with Geauga Lake in Aurora and Cedar Point in Sandusky. And its location in Youngstown remains a point of pride.

“It was a park in our own back yard,” said Cindy Zouck, who worked at the park in 1984, the year it closed. “We didn’t have to drive out of town.”

Lenny Cavalier, whose father Tony was a part owner of the park, amused the more than 100 people in attendance with stories of his days as a park employee. The work was hard because the park was open 12 hours per day, seven days per week, and pay was $0.50 per hour.

He said his favorite job was to drive the fire truck that took young patrons around the “kiddie” rides, despite being only 15 and not possessing a driver’s license. When a supervisor found out, Cavalier’s fire truck days were over.

Despite the long hours, former employees like Cindy Illencik said there were benefits to the job.

“The people made it fun,” said Illencik, who worked at the park in 1973 and 1974.

After a fire devastated the park in 1984, the owners made the difficult decision to shut it down. Amusement park enthusiast Randy Skalos remembers the day he learned of the park’s closing. As a student at Youngstown State University, Skalos regularly cleaned the football stadium. While cleaning, he picked up that day’s newspaper that had been left on the field and read of the park’s closing.

“It was very sad,” said Skalos.

Those who long for the glory days of the park will be pleased to know that Jim Amey has created “Jim’s Idora Park Experience,” a private museum in Canfield that houses original parts of rides and other remnants from the park culled from the internet, including a 22-foot rocket ship and an original neon sign from 1930. He also has found most of the cars and trains from the park’s signature attraction, the Wildcat rollercoaster.

“The memory of the park needs to live on,” Amey said.

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