IAAPA News - IAAPA Centennial - April 2018

The IAAPA Oral History Project launched on the new IAAPA Centennial website with five interviews; each month, new videos will be posted on the site, with a planned release of 35 by the end of the year. 

Listen to—and Learn from—Voices of the Past

Attractions industry leaders and pioneers tell the industry and association’s story through the IAAPA Oral History Project

by Juanita Chavarro Arias

In celebration of IAAPA’s 100-year anniversary in 2018, the association recently launched its new IAAPA Centennial website (www.IAAPA.org/IAAPA100), offering a variety of special resources that tell the story of the association’s first 100 years while highlighting members and leaders of distinction who have shaped the IAAPA of today. In addition to an interactive historical timeline and personal stories shared by members, the website is home to the IAAPA Oral History Project. 

The project’s mission is to honor the pioneers, trailblazers, and risk-takers whose vision, passion, and persistence built the attractions industry. Through a series of video interviews in which these individuals tell the IAAPA story in their own words, the IAAPA Oral History Project hopes to educate current industry members and inspire the next generation of global attractions industry leaders. 

The IAAPA Oral History Project includes more than 100 interviews and is a collaboration between the IAAPA Hall of Fame and Archives Committee and Jim Futrell, a historian for the National Amusement Park Historical Association (NAPHA). Even though its first videos were released in February, the IAAPA Oral History Project has been in development since 2005, and even earlier.

“There was a first generation of the Oral History Project that went back 20 years,” Futrell says. “I was sitting in an office with Carl Hughes, who at the time was chairman of Kennywood, and he mentioned that John Graff, who was IAAPA CEO, said, ‘It would be great to get a bunch of guys like you, Carl, to sit around in a room and tell stories.’”

Futrell, along with other members of NAPHA, took on the project and interviewed industry leaders, documenting the conversations with an audio recorder. The volunteer-driven initiative lasted about three or four years, and it gave rise to a series of articles in Funworld called “Legends in the Industry.”

Years later, after several well-known industry contributors passed away, former IAAPA Chairman Paul Serff emphasized the need to start recording the memories of industry pioneers. As a result, the IAAPA Board of Directors adopted a more formalized IAAPA Oral History Project to collect contributions. In fall 2005, Futrell was brought back to conduct interviews for the project, and he started with IAAPA Attractions Expo 2005, where he interviewed several people.

“That started this pattern where I would come down to the Expos and interview people,” he says. “IAAPA would set up the interviews. We had a discussion guide and a professional videographer, so the quality that we got was much higher.”

Since 2005, Futrell has conducted 115 out of the 117 interviews for the IAAPA Oral History Project. Most of the interviews have taken place at IAAPA Attractions Expo, but he has also conducted interviews in Anaheim, California; Branson, Missouri; and at two Euro Attractions Show events. 

During its annual committee meeting in September, the IAAPA Hall of Fame and Archives Committee works with Futrell to decide who will be interviewed at the upcoming IAAPA Attractions Expo. They usually plan for six to nine interviews and consider a variety of people, starting with the former chairs of the association, IAAPA Hall of Fame inductees, industry veterans, and individuals who have made significant contributions to IAAPA, such as those serving on committees or in other leadership roles.

“Sometimes, there really is a selling process involved in getting them to sit down for an interview because they think, ‘Oh, I don’t know what I’d say.’ Those end up being some of the better interviews,” Futrell says. “There’s a certain sense of humility that makes them very genuine in what they say. It’s one of those moments when they’re reflective about their careers and contributions to the industry.”

Jack Morey, IAAPA Hall of Fame and Archives Committee chair and second-generation partner at Morey’s Piers, says when he became part of the IAAPA Oral History Project, he immediately recognized its historical and educational significance and the impact the videos would have on the next generation.

“To me, there’s an opportunity for young people that have a little bit of the amusement bug to watch these videos. It’s like a highlight reel,” Morey says. “Learning is power, and maybe the videos can become the textbook of the industry because there’s no textbook for this stuff. I feel proud and honored to be a part of shedding some light on great people that are a very important part of history.”

For Futrell, it has been rewarding interviewing people who have played a key role in making the industry what it is today.

“You have some of these opportunities, like Marty Sklar, who was an absolute legend in the industry. To be able to sit in a room with him and have him to myself for two and a half hours and ask him anything, that was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” he says. “[The IAAPA Oral History Project] is something that broadly reflects who IAAPA is. It’s been a really fascinating experience.”

The IAAPA Centennial website launched with five interviews published online, edited to highlight the most critical, enlightening material; each month, the IAAPA Oral History Project will continue to post new interviews to the site, with a planned release of 35 videos by the end of the year.

To view the IAAPA Oral History Project video collection, visit www.IAAPA.org/IAAPA100.