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General manager reaching the end of his track

Melissa Topey • Oct 27, 2013 at 11:00 AM

John Hildebrandt is used to being stopped as he walks down the Midway. He’s been the face of Cedar Point for decades.

This weekend, however, is different. Hildebrandt will take his last walk down the Midway as general manager of the park, where he first started working as a ride operator in 1969.

Hildebrandt has spent four decades at Cedar Point; the last eight as general manager of Cedar Fair’s flagship park.

His retirement officially begins after the end of the year, but his last season ends this weekend.    

Read what retired Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel says about Hildebrandt HERE

“What will you do?” Carsten Anderson, a coaster enthusiast and president of a Cedar Point fan site called CPRundown.com  , asked Hildebrandt when he saw the general manager walking the Midway.

Hildebrandt, who has an intense interest in history, particularly the American Civil War, told him he planned to continue writing.

Hildebrandt is part of the Erie County Civil War 150 group, which has been chronicling the historic role men and women from Erie County played in the war for an ongoing series in the Register coinciding with the 150 anniversary of the war.

Hildebrandt obliges when Anderson asks to take a quick photo with him.

Watch a portion of Hildebrandt's interview with Matt Westerhold in the player below

Watch the entire interview HERE

“I do look forward to enjoying the park as a guest next summer. I have two grandchildren counting on it,” he said.

Hildebrandt wore a goofy park uniform similar to a Star Trek costume the summer of 1969 for his first assignment at the park. He worked as a ride operator at “Frontier Lift,” the old sky bucket attraction that took park guests from the west end of the Midway to what was then still a new attraction at Cedar Point, Frontier Town.

But his career with with the park more precisely began in 1974, when he answered an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer for a staff writer in CP’s public relations department. It was a far cry from what the west side Cleveland native thought he would do when he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from Notre Dame and a master’s degree in teaching in North Carolina.

“I thought I would do that for a year,” Hildebrandt said.

He worked his way up through the corporate ranks, however, and never looked back. He was promoted to communications manager, marketing manager, director of marketing and then vice president of marketing from 1993 to 2004.

Hildebrandt spent a yearlong stint as a manager of Dorney Park in Pennsylvania before plunging into his final role — vice president and general manager of Cedar Point.

Looking back, the best part of the job has been the interaction with guests and employees, he said, walking the Midway and talking to people.

“Going to Cedar Point is a big deal for our guests. They are here with their families and good friends. It’s emotional; they are making memories they will treasure for a long time,” he said. “It’s important to show them a good time, to make it the best day of their summer. All of us who work here help make that happen and it is very, very satisfying.”

Marketing and media relations was Hildebrandt’s focus for about two-thirds of the years he spent with the company. Those were prosperous years when the park expanded past anyone’s expectations. Cedar Fair acquired 11 amusement parks, three outdoor water parks, one indoor water park and five hotels.

It also invented the bigger, better, faster, taller approach to roller coasters and marketing that established Cedar Point as the premiere thrill-ride destination.

“I was fortunate to be here in time of tremendous growth, not just for the park but for the company. When we started, it was just Cedar Point. We are a billion- dollar enterprise now,” Hildebrandt said.

The success of Cedar Fair and its parks, according to Hildebrandt, comes from the company’s ability to balance thrill rides and family offerings so there is something for everyone.

“This is a delicate sweet spot to get to,” Hildebrandt said.

He is excited about Cedar Fair’s future under new chief executive officer Matt Ouimet as well as Cedar Point under new general manager Jason McClure.

“It’s been a great ride,” he said, looking back on his time at Cedar Point.

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