Funland has kept four generations of one family happily employed—much to the delight of patrons.
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Though a must-do on most visitors’ vacation lists, Funland is more than a summer tradition. It is also one family’s heritage. The business is now in its fourth generation of family ownership, with more than 30 family members involved at any given time. “We’re very proud of that,” says Bill Henschke, whose father-in-law, Allen R. Fasnacht, is one of the business’ founders.
It all started in August 1961, when the Fasnacht family vacationed in Bethany Beach. Fasnacht and his wife, Jean, his brother Don and Don’s wife, Dee, were walking with others on the boardwalk when they strolled by Sport Center.
Fasnacht was fascinated by a helicopter ride, one of the first kiddie rides to let the child control the car’s movements. His interest wasn’t unusual, considering the family owned Willow Mill Park, a picnic park with rides, pavilions and games in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
He struck up a conversation with Sport Center owner Jack Dentino, whose family in the 1930s had built the business on the success of an arcade game where contestants tried to topple a pyramid of milk bottles with a ball.
“Almost before I said hello, he asked me if I wanted to buy the place,” Fasnacht says. After brushing off the idea, the family returned home. But the lure of the arcade was strong. They decided to buy Sport Center.
Settlement was scheduled for March 15, 1962. Nature, however, had other plans. On March 6, the Great Atlantic Storm battered the Delaware coast. The nor’easter stalled for five high tides, devouring the boardwalk and its stores and spewing them out to sea.
“It was amazing,” Fasnacht recalls. “Within about 100 feet of the boardwalk it was utter destruction. The structures were old—no pilings—and as a result, the foundations were poured on sand. And you know what the Bible says about building a house on sand.”
During the storm, the surf snatched up the boardwalk timbers and concrete slabs, then used them like battering rams to destroy neighboring buildings. “We had I-beams that had a 45-degree dent. It was hard to comprehend,” Fasnacht says.
Despite the devastation, the families went through with the transaction, making allowances for repairs. (The helicopter ride survived. It is still in operation.)
From the start, Funland has been a family effort. Between them, Don and Al have seven children, and most are involved. “We do everything ourselves,” Fasnacht says. “This type of business is pretty difficult to operate as an absentee owner.” The family closed Willow Mill Park in 1968—running both businesses was too challenging.
Funland even handles its own maintenance. Don Fasnacht, who honed his skills in the Air Force and by working on elevators, can “fix anything,” Bill Henschke says. That was a plus when the track for the Haunted Mansion arrived.
“Everything came in wrong,” Henschke recalls. “The pieces didn’t fit together. We had to redesign some 450 feet of track from hand. We couldn’t run the ride one year because the brakes gave out. Don redesigned the braking system.”
Page 3: Family Fun, continues...