Lifelong Friendships Forged at Marriott’s Great America

July 11, 2018

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This may come as news to some, but for many years, Marriott International owned and operated two amusement parks, one in California and one in Illinois.

We named the parks Marriott's Great America and they were proud tributes to all that is great about this country. They were also, I learned recently, a place where many people formed lifelong friendships.

One of the parks was in Santa Clara, California, in the heart of today's Silicon Valley. The other was in Gurnee, Illinois, a town about 30 miles north of Chicago. Both opened in 1976 and represented the state-of-the-art in theme park design and attractions at that time.

I remember so many things about the parks. The Hometown Square, the Yukon Territory, the Orleans Place, and the many other Americana-themed areas. There were classic wooden roller coasters — my favorite was the Whizzer — and other thrill rides for everyone. There was the beautifully-ornate, double-decker carousel. And, of course, the great food and wonderful entertainment, all representing the best of America.

We ended up selling both parks in the early 1980s to concentrate on our hotel business. But I'm glad to say they are still in operation. The one in Santa Clara is now called California's Great America, and the one in Illinois is now called Six Flags Great America.

I was reminded of all this recently when I received a heartfelt letter from a former associate who worked at the Illinois park in their Show Operations Department.

It turns out, four decades after the park first opened, he and many of his coworkers still get together, and he was writing to tell me about their 40th reunion, which they held at the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort in Illinois.

"Most of us were just kids back then," he wrote, "kids who could sing, dance, play instruments, operate lights, and mend costumes."

It was, as he said, a dream job for a kid growing up in the Midwest, "and we were all living the dream."

He expressed his sincere gratitude for the unique opportunities Marriott had provided for him and his friends, and for "creating an environment where we would develop and nurture relationships that have lasted a lifetime."

How truly wonderful it is that, decades later, this group still gathers to share their lives' adventures beyond the Great America theme park, and to express their gratitude for the opportunity they had to learn, grow, and make lifelong friends.

This, to me, is one of the many things that is great about America!

I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott On the Move!

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