Remembering Hank Salemi of Six Flags Great America
The attractions industry was shaken in early January by news of the passing of Charles “Hank” Salemi, 57, president of Six Flags Great America and Hurricane Harbor Chicago in Gurnee, Illinois. Salemi was an admired, respected, and beloved leader and friend to countless people, and after his passing, there was an outpouring of fond memories.
IAAPA President and CEO Hal McEvoy spoke of how he felt upon hearing the news of Salemi’s death: “When I got the call, I was in shock. Hank was an excellent leader in our industry who brought passion and care to his team at Six Flags Great America and their guests. He could always be counted on to be there, whenever he was needed. As we go forward, I’ll always have his voice in my head and heart … and I will smile, knowing he left his mark on me and many others in making this world a better place.”
Salemi spent almost 25 years with Six Flags, starting in 1997 as director of marketing for Six Flags Great America. From 2000 to 2006, he was regional vice president of marketing and then senior vice president of marketing for Six Flags. In 2006, he became president of Six Flags Great America. Salemi was a longtime IAAPA member and former board member, having served as the association’s treasurer and chairman of the IAAPA Compensation Committee.
A few friends and colleagues who knew Salemi well expressed their thoughts about him:
“When you receive unbearable news, you turn to people for support. What do we do when the person we would turn to is no longer there? Hank was that person … no matter the topic, he was steadfast and genuine. Always up for a laugh, and a good time, but seriously committed to any subject matter or concern he could assist with. Winston Churchill stated, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’ Hank was the perfect example of this, and we are all heartbroken because of how wholeheartedly he gave himself to us. He would smile, he would hug, he would joke, he would chuckle. He would be Hank.”
—The loving members of Hank Salemi’s “Party of Fore Reckless Drivers” golf team: Gina Claassen, corporate safety director, Herschend Family Entertainment; Chloe Hausfeld, director of marketing and business development, Jack Rouse Associates; and Pete Barto, vice president of sales and strategic partnerships, Extreme Engineering
“I had the privilege of working closely with Hank before, during, and after my term as an officer and chairman of IAAPA. His financial leadership helped enable IAAPA to be in a position to establish our new headquarters in Orlando and to withstand the unprecedented pandemic. He was a true friend to all of us, and his loss will be deeply felt. Hank was smart, fun to be with, and loved by everyone. IAAPA will never be the same without him.”
—Greg Hale, vice president and chief safety officer, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
“We’ve lost a dear friend, colleague, and tremendous industry leader with the untimely passing of Hank. He served as treasurer of IAAPA during some of its most critical years of growth and transition. When he received the 2019 IAAPA Board of Directors Special Service Award, he accepted the honor with humility. His wit and larger-than-life personality made every interaction memorable. To say he’ll be missed is an understatement. We’ll carry his voice with us, a reminder that every day is golden and every interaction should be cherished.”
—David Rosenberg, vice president of Monterey Bay Aquarium and 2019 IAAPA chairman of the board