‘Memories are priceless:’ Joyland owners create 50 years of smiles before saying goodbye

Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 12:03 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Joyland owners announced Monday that if they can’t find a buyer by the end of the month, the Lubbock amusement park is going to auction. Over the past half-century, the park has become a staple of fun and entertainment for families across the South Plains. Owner David Dean strolled through the park, reflecting on the countless memories throughout the last 50 years.

Dean remembers a time before Joyland came to be when the park was known as the Mackenzie Park Playground, its legacy just getting started in the late 1940s. Dean and his family got their start in the industry at Wonderland in Amarillo. That’s where he had his first job, making 35 cents an hour.

“My mom and dad really got the bug for this business there, and my dad looked for years for a park to buy,” Dean said.

That’s when his family found Joyland, taking over in 1973. Throughout the years, they have worked to slowly grow the park, building new rides as their budget allowed. The park started with only 13 rides, now 30 tower over the skyline view off the Marsha Sharp Freeway.

Joyland became a summer favorite for Lubbock families. Students on field trips, grandmas, and grandpas soaking up time with their little ones. Carolyn Poe has taken her grandkids every summer since 2009. When she saw the announcement owners were closing its doors, she was heartbroken.

“I started crying. I thought, so many people are going to miss just that tradition of all that family time out there and just the fun times,” she said.

The decision to sell wasn’t easy, but it’s something the owners have considered for years. They’ve faced several challenges, like flooding, vandalism, a pandemic, and labor shortages, to name a few. Dean says they’ve made enough money to get buy, but that doesn’t compare to the priceless memories. He recalled one special moment when a man proposed to his soon-to-be-wife one Autumn night in the midway of the park.

“He got down on one knee and proposed to her and of course she accepted, and then all the friends came out and they started singing and dancing and it was, obviously it meant a lot ‘cause, that was ten years ago,” Dean said.

The park has been on the market for more than two years, but Dean says he could never reach an agreement with prospective buyers. While he says it would be a Cinderella story, he hopes the Joyland name can live on.

“The toughest thing on me is having to know that we’re not creating smiles anymore. That’s pretty tough on my heart there. But, maybe somebody will come along and pick it up. And maybe, you know, you hope they’ll take it to the next level. It’s an opportunity for someone if they don’t mind some hard work and they love smiles and they love families, it’s a great opportunity,” Dean said.

Despite any rumors, Dean says he’s never been in talks with Six Flags. He says a big chain has reached out before, but they couldn’t reach a deal. No matter the future of the park, Dean and his family have 50 years to look back on.

“Little kids having fun, the families coming together, the family reunions, those things, those are what you remember,” Dean said.

The land where the park is located still belongs to the City of Lubbock. Parks and Recreation officials say they haven’t had any discussion about the land’s future use.