Food brought Dick Kinzel to Cedar Point, but roller coasters took him to the top of the amusement park industry.
Although he worked hard and encountered the day-to-day struggles many family men do while trying to establish their careers, his climb to the top, for the most part, was quick and has coasted smoothly for 39 years.
Kinzel, 70, didn’t enter the amusement park industry until 1972, when he was 31. After a year at Wisconsin State College, he joined the Canteen food-service company in Toledo, his hometown.
During his 10 years there he achieved the title of commissary manager. In 1971 the father of four sent his résumé to Walt Disney World, which was getting ready to open in Florida later that year. One of Canteen’s purveyors learned Kinzel was interested in the park food business and mentioned an opening at Cedar Point.
When Kinzel heard from Disney, he asked for $15,000 per year and wouldn’t budge. Disney wouldn’t either. Soon after, he heard from Cedar Point and accepted a job as a supervisor in the food department for $13,000.
In 1975, when Kinzel was director of foods, several of the park’s top officials resigned. Bob Munger, general manager at the time, promoted Kinzel to director of operations. Kinzel had no experience on that side of business, but studied over the winter to be ready to step into the position in spring.
In 1976, after a year of navigating operations, Cedar Point was one of the first parks in the country to install an Arrow Dynamics “Corkscrew” coaster.
Kinzel said it was one of the park’s best decisions: Gate attendance topped 3 million for the first time and really put the park on the map.
With the success of Corkscrew, it was obvious new coasters would bring new business. The double-tracked Gemini, a steel-tracked, wooden-framed racing coaster, was added in 1978 and again led to record-breaking attendance with the tallest coaster in the world at the time — at 125 feet.
One of the most important career moves of Kinzel’s life came that year. Cedar Point bought Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee, Minn., and Munger sent Kinzel to manage the facility. At the time the parks were publicly traded and sold as over-the-counter shares. But in 1983 Munger pulled them off the market and Kinzel became an equity partner when he was part of the leveraged buyout to take it private.
The parent company took one word from both of its parks and became Cedar Fair.
Kinzel, whose tenure as Cedar Fair’s leader ends Jan. 2, has been general partner since 1986 and a member of the board of directors since 1986. He also served as chairman of the board from 2003 until January 2011.
In the video above, watch Kinzel accept a key to the city of Sandusky at a recent city commission meeting.
This story exerpt is taken from a special section on Kinzel's tenure at Cedar Fair and his retirement printed in the Register on Sunday, Oct. 30. To purchase a back copy of this edition, visit the Register offices at 314 W. Market St. between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, or call 800-466-1243.