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PHIL POTEMPA: Indiana Beach amusement park sold to new owners

Indiana Beach overhead shot

Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello has been sold and new owners are hopeful the Hoosier landmark destination will attract new visitors as it nears its century-old birthday.

California-based Apex Parks Group is taking over the park along Lake Shafer after reaching a deal earlier this month with current owner Morgan Recreation Vacations of Sarasota, N.Y.

According to the report from the Associated Press, which did not disclose any of the financial details, Apex Parks CEO Al Weber called Indiana Beach "a fabulous addition for the company, " which now owns 13 amusement parks and two water parks in California, Texas, Florida and New Jersey.

There have been many changes at Indiana Beach in recent years, following new ownership.

Thomas Earl Spackman, former longtime owner of Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Ind. died Nov. 11, 2013 at age 100 at White Oak Health Campus in Monticello.

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 working 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. In recent years, Morgan RV has closed properties around the country and faced foreclosure.

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."

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.

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