East Dundee park manager loves job too much to leave
Don Holliman of East Dundee has seen a lot of changes after working for 50 years at Santa's Village Azoosment Park in East Dundee, along with its predecessor parks.
From ride operator to general manager, Holliman has seen how manual rides changed with technology, more safety features were added, and how the kids grew up, became successful and returned with their own kids.
What hasn't changed is how much he has enjoyed watching others enjoy themselves. So it was just a fringe benefit that he was recently honored by his company for working for 50 years. Holliman said he plans to remain as general manager and can't see retiring.
"It wasn't a routine job. It wasn't like going to an office every day," said Holliman, 70.
Holliman was born in Chicago and grew up in Bloomingdale. He loved going to the old Riverview in Chicago as a kid. When he turned 16, he got a job at Adventureland in Addison in 1966.
Then Adventureland bought Santa's Village and Holliman continued to work for the new company and, eventually, moved up the ranks. He moved from kiddie rides to the Ferris wheel to ride manager and co-park manager.
By the 1970s, Adventureland was sold to investors at about the same time as Great America opened. Eventually Adventureland closed and Holliman worked for Santa's Village in East Dundee, which expanded with more parks in California.
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Since the company also owned a nearby ice skating rink, he became assistant ice rink manager, where he met his future wife. Susa had been a professional ice skater at the time and was recovering from an injury, so she went to the park for practice. They married in 1968 and had a son.
Santa's Village closed by 2006, and Holliman took various jobs as a retail salesman at Wicke's Furniture, Homemaker's, Value City and elsewhere. But some of those stores also closed, and he eventually grew tired of retail. So he retired in 2010, but not for long.
About two weeks later, he got a call from the new owners hoping to resurrect Santa's Village, renaming it Santa's Village Azoosment Park. They asked him to return as general manage of the park.
"I liked the business and really didn't like retirement," he said.
The new park was much smaller at Route 25 and 72, but eventually, the Sierpien family spent four to five months cleaning up the site. Then they started bringing in more rides, including some from the original park that were refurbished. They opened in late 2010 just before winter. By 2011, they had their first season in full swing.
"The park had a lot of memories for me," Holliman said. "It was the association with people. I stayed in touch with a lot of people. It was those memories and my interactions with those people that became friendships. That's what I had missed the most."
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