Thomas Earl Spackman, former longtime owner of Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Ind. died Nov. 11 at age 100 at White Oak Health Campus in Monticello.
According to the Associated Press wire obituary, Spackman was born in Highland Park, Mich., and graduated from Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. He earned a business degree in 1937 from Indiana University.
It was his father, Earl W. Spackman, who founded the amusement park and boardwalk attractions in Monticello, calling the space Ideal Beach in 1926. He had the remarkable vision to dream of creating a stretch of beach space after a dam project on the Tippecanoe River created "man-made" Lake Shafer in the 1920s.
His son Thomas Sr., who started work for his father at age 12 running a soda booth on the boardwalk, became chief executive officer of Ideal Beach in 1945 and changed the name of the resort on Lake Shafer to Indiana Beach in 1952. In 2008, the Spackman family sold the park and two nearby campgrounds to Morgan RV Resorts.
I spent many of my summers as a youth at Indiana Beach with my parents and siblings, and Spackman was always strolling the boardwalk or keeping a watchful eye over matters from a nearby bench or enjoying his daily lunch in the elegant Skyroom Restaurant. He was also a master of marketing. At age 85, when Indiana Beach added a bungee jump, it was Spackman who took the first leap "as proof of how safe his new attraction really was."
He was equally proud of his property's popular and clever advertising slogan: "There's more than corn in Indiana."
Business and tourism leaders from around the state attended his visitation to pay their respects at Springer-Voorhis-Draper Funeral Home, as well as attending the Friday, Nov. 15 funeral service at Monticello Christian Church.
It was following his father's death in 1946, that he invested what he once described to me as "serious amounts of money" to purchase the amusement park's first permanent rides in 1947, including a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round and something called a Roll-O-Plane.
When the entire operation, everything from the restaurants, gift shops and land to the hotels, cottages, amusement park, name and licensing was purchased in 2008 by Morgan RV Resorts, based in Queensbury, N.Y., and the country's largest private owner and operator of RV parks and resorts, it was a new chapter in the attraction's long history
The multi-million dollar sale price was not revealed. But in the past, White County tourism and economic officials have said the amusement destination earns more than $60 million annually for the park and surrounding area.
When I last chatted with the park's last final family member owner Tom Spackman Jr., who is now 75, he told me he learned long ago from his father the key to amusement parks is to find the right blend and balance for preserving old memories and traditions with new experiences for future generations. Tom Jr. and his sister Cathy Jungten said they and their three siblings took a vote that resulted in the 2008 sale.
Bill Robinson, a publicist and advertising agency owner in Hamilton, Ohio, handled the marketing and press for Indiana Beach for more than two decades and even assisted with spreading the message of the park's popular crow mascot shouting the now trademark corny slogan.
While many people associate the black crow as the mascot for the park, Spackman Sr. always insisted to me that the true icon of Indiana Beach continued to be the 76-ton (without passengers!) Shafer Queen paddle boat, which first was added lakeside on Ideal Beach in 1972.