Things have been a little chaotic lately- to say the least. I’ve been working hard on new poems and drinking lots of caffeine in the meantime. I began writing some spectacular insights this week, however with a busy holiday weekend approaching, I doubt I’ll finish them any time soon. In lieu of those works just mentioned, I’ve provided below an essay which I submitted to my local Historical Society on the historical importance of Stricker’s Grove, an age old amusement park in my locality. I hope you enjoy it as much as the judges of the contest did (it won me a cool three hundred dollars and a lustering medallion).


 

Forgotten Historians: How Stricker’s Grove Helped Shape Our Community’s Past and Future

            Driving through Ross Township on a lazy Sunday evening is a peaceful end to a long-fought week. The setting sun paints the western sky with brilliant hues of purple-red envy; colors only God could have ordained us to see. This is faith country- where young men and women are taught their beliefs from miniscule ages, and are told to accept those around them based on understanding and potential, not circumstance and judgment. Children learn the values of honesty, integrity, and respect by handing Daddy and Mommy tools under the car, helping plant seeds in the family garden, and cheering on the local football team despite its losing record. This is a community of hard work, pure grit, and tangled legends- where elders pass down before us stories of past wars and conflicts, interlaced with the tall-tail hope of a more visionary future. Such dreams of a better world now fall upon my generation’s shoulders, and as the successors to this ambition, it is our privilege and duty to take heed of their words. The strength of our community’s future is directly correlated to the relationship of our past; they are both luminous satellites of knowledge in the night sky, mysteriously orbiting us, all the while on identical collision courses.

            One of the many things I admire most about Morgan and Ross Township is the amount of locally owned businesses, churches, and other organizations that have contributed themselves to our history over time. Although there is much to be said about each individual establishment, one just on the outskirts of town stands out as the only amusement park in our locality. Heading south on Rt. 128 just past the local BP gas station, and sitting on twenty-five acres of rural heaven, lies Stricker’s Grove- a small, almost hidden, family owned fun-park. At first glance, this industrial masterpiece may seem oddly out of place, but with proper investigation one will conclude quite the opposite. The amount of history encapsulated within these patinaed rides is frankly, astonishing, and the story of the family who’s maintained them for the past ninety-three years even more so!

            Stricker’s Grove was originally created by Henry Stricker in 1924 on fifty-five acres of Mt. Healthy countryside. Established as a place of relaxation for Henry and his fellow Procter and Gamble employees, Stricker planted three apple orchards upon his land for shade and enjoyment- hence the name “Stricker’s Grove”. Not long afterwards, a pony ride was established around the pond, and as things began to progress a dancehall was erected to satisfy the times. By 1954 the first mechanical rides had arrived in the park, catalyzing the picnic retreat into what we know it as today, and thus establishing the legacy of Henry Stricker. Unfortunately, Henry would pass away only six years later in 1960, leaving the park and all its attributes split between his three sons: Ralph, Harold, and Elmer.[1]

            In 1972 the land the park resided on in Mt. Healthy was declared eminent domain by the local government, causing the three Stricker brothers to sell the park; cutting their losses and leaving the amusement park industry. Afterwards, however, Ralph Stricker purchased the few remaining assets from his brothers, and with what little liquidity was left, bought a small twenty-five acre plot of land in Ross Township. In a diligent effort to protect his family’s heritage, Ralph began to work tirelessly on park activities- buying up old rides from more modern parks, establishing high standards of safety for employees, consumers, and the environment, and giving back to the community at every turn.[2] By 1990 Ralph had managed to save enough revenue to break soil on a new rollercoaster called The Tornado. Assembled and managed by Ralph Stricker himself, the wooden coaster was built from scratch using attained blueprints of The Comet rollercoaster from Rocky Glen Park in Moosic, Pennsylvania. Construction on the twin coaster was finished in 1993, after only three years, and Ralph soon began work on his next big project- a more child friendly coaster known as The Teddy Bear. The Teddy Bear, much like its predecessor, was also built from scratch by Ralph himself, and was constructed based on the purchased blueprints of a similar coaster at Coney Island. The composition of these wooden masterpieces allows Ralph to be distinguished as the only individual in America to have ever overseen the construction of their own rollercoasters and has led to impressive recognition by the American Coaster Enthusiasts.[3],9 The ingenuity of Ralph Stricker can be seen throughout these rides still today, as both run simultaneously on the same pneumatic generator; if The Tornado is not turned on the Teddy Bear receives no power. Additionally, Ralph dabbled in all facets of engineering new generators, developing solutions to mechanical complications, and producing sustainable electricity for the park- something which nearly half the rides still run on to this day.[4]

            On January 12th, 2007 Ralph Stricker passed away, leaving the park to the owners I have now come to love and enjoy during my time of employment there. Nancy “Boo” Stricker and her sister Debbie Ziegler are now joint owners of the park, along with a handful of lifelong friends that help keep the investment in good standing. The park is still renowned for its collection of antique contraptions that other parks would see unsuitable for our tech-crazed world, and manages to draw large crowds and picnics, in spite of the sometimes seemingly endless maintenance that must be performed. Stepping afoot on these rides nearly transports the passenger backwards in time- to an age when true selfies were snapped in lovers’ photo-booths, American patriotism was at the forefront of every young man’s mind, and the words “hometown proud” were more than just a slogan on an IGA grocery bag. Embarking on a ride at Stricker’s Grove gives customers a chance to remember with us joys priorly experienced, and recall back into their consciousness’ a time when American hearts weren’t so crusted by the overbearing ­­­­­­­weight of our human afflictions, but rather, radiant with the hope and belief that through moments like this- through silly amusement park rides and dancing and face painting and elephant-ear funnel cakes and games of putt-putt and horseshoes and cornhole bags and knocking over cans- that through all of this, we could become a greater people, with a greater understanding for one another and a greater will for our community.

This is the reason why I strongly support local businesses, as they are the ones not only being forced to, but the ones who are longing to continue writing, writing, and rewriting the history of this great town. As citizens, we have placed a tremendous burden upon these people, realized or not, and have oftentimes asked more of them than we could ever even bear to ask ourselves. Backstabbingly cruel we are to these masked historians, who sacrifice day in and day out to provide unity in a divided world! Despite economic turmoil and the devaluation of family in our culture, local businesses remain- Stricker’s Grove remains- a pillar of hope for all people. It is to them that I owe a solemn thank you for the preservation of our community. It is to them that I owe a solemn thank you, for the preservation of our future… thank you!

[1] McCabe Ginny, “Stricker’s Grove to Celebrate 90th Anniversary,” Journal-News, (2014)

[2] Wilson P. F., “The Stricker Family’s on One Wild Ride,” Cincy Magazine, (2007)

[3] For more information on The Teddy Bear, The Tornado, and The Comet see rcdb.com

[4] Stricker, N. (2016). Personal Communication

5Figure 1 taken from: themeparkreview.com

6Figure 2 taken from: theglobecollection.com

7Figure 3 taken from: Franczec, Steven flickr.com

8Figure 4 taken from: Personal Album by Author

9ACE is a non-profit organization focusing on the preservation of historical roller coasters around the word. For further information see aceonline.org

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