Bench at Six Flags Over Georgia dedicated in W. Cleveland Smith’s memory

June 18, 2012

Cleveland Smith’s family gathered at The Riverview Carousel for the bench dedication with the Six Flags family June 16, 2012, the day Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated 45 years. View more photos by clicking here.

Dad could have told us that The Riverview Carousel at Six Flags Over Georgia is special because it’s one of only three five-across carousels still in existence. He kept up with things like that. The carousel, made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, was built in 1908 and was at Riverview Park in Chicago until that park closed. It has been located at Six Flags Over Georgia since the early 1970s, where the hand-carved horses are in constant rotation for refurbishing, three or four per year. The carousel is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The carousel is special, and it’s in a special park. Dad was one of the earliest general managers of Six Flags Over Georgia. Today at the helm is Melinda Ashcraft, one of Dad’s favorite people. She, too, was working at Six Flags Over Georgia the day it opened 45 years ago. She was assigned to Jean Ribaut’s Adventure riverboat ride. Dad had worked on the similar La Salle’s River Adventure at Six Flags Over Texas.

Physically The Riverview Carousel is located near the center of the park, a bit of a hike up hill. Tall trees are all around. Peek through the branches and you can see roller coaster tracks, antique cars, a children’s ride shaped like hot air balloons. Listen and you hear screams and laughter and the noises of the midway games below. Stand still and feel a breeze.

We included Dad’s beloved Six Flags jacket for the ceremony.

It is perhaps the most peaceful, beautiful spot at Six Flags Over Georgia — maybe at any amusement park anywhere. And that’s where the Cleveland Smith Memorial Bench is now located.

So many of you gave donations to make this customized bench a possibility. Thank you. It is a beautiful bench and should last for decades. It’s the only bench located at the carousel, amid several rocking chairs. We think it will get lots of use. The medallion in the center of the bench says, “Life has its ups and downs. Enjoy the ride” — something Dad may well have said but certainly would agree with — and “W. Cleveland Smith, 1941-2011.”

Dad’s family (pictured above) and his Six Flags family came together on June 16, 2012 for a bench dedication service, on the very day that Six Flags Over Georgia celebrated its 45th anniversary. The park came to life and the front gates opened as we wrapped up a brunch (catered, with love, by Wilma Ashcraft) and rode the carousel with Dad. Yes, “with Dad.” I wasn’t the only one who felt his presence at The Riverview Carousel.

Watch the dedication ceremony in this 19 1/2-minute video.

View more pictures from the dedication ceremony.

Hear what Jeff Foxworthy had to say in this 9-minute video.


Photos from the bench dedication ceremony at Six Flags Over Georgia

June 18, 2012

I put a bunch of photos from the event into a slideshow. Click here if you’d like to look at them.


Comedian Jeff Foxworthy spoke at Six Flags Over Georgia 45th anniversary

June 18, 2012

Photographer Todd Hull from the Marietta Daily Journal captured Sherry Shaw Smith snapping a picture of Jeff Foxworthy.

Did you know that Jeff Foxworthy worked at Six Flags Over Georgia way back before he became a famous comedian? He came back to Six Flags to celebrate the 45th anniversary…and I captured it on my iPad from the second row. Park President Melinda Ashcraft mentions my Dad in her introductory remarks.

Click here to watch the 9-minute video. 

Click here to read the story in the Marietta Daily Journal.

The words my husband spoke at Dad’s funeral

October 12, 2011

Some 19 years ago, my wife and I went to the New York State Fair in Syracuse, and as soon-to-be newlyweds at that time, we stopped at a vendor because we kind of thought it would be kind of neat to get his and hers little dolls, a bride and groom that said “Sammy Loves Amber” and “Amber Loves Sammy,” and get them embroidered. It was for $10 bucks, a pretty good price. Somehow during that time, we got into a conversation with the gentleman behind the counter, and we got on the topic of amusements, and she said that her father was involved in the business. As he wrote up the order form, he asked for her name, and she said “Amber Smith.” Without missing a beat he look at her and said, “You’re not Cleveland Smith’s daughter are you?”

I was totally amazed. He went on to explain how Cleveland helped him get his start in the business, how he encouraged him, and mentored him along. It was right then that I began to understand how well thought of an influential he was in the industry. (By the way, there was no charge for these.)

As mentioned, that was up in New York state, and that makes me a Yankee. It took several visits down south before I think I was accepted fully, but I’ll tell you, if Cleveland had any question about his daughter’s choice for a spouse, I never felt it. He was always welcoming and hospitable, and he made me feel as part of the family right from the start.

Now I come from an Italian family, so we’re usually not at a loss for words or how loud we tend to say them, but with Cleveland because of his low-key , soft-spoken and easy-going approach to things, it was often difficult for me to tell if he was ever mad. I just could never tell. But it is a trait that I hope that my kids will eventually perfect because they had a wonderful role model to have as a grandfather.

Cleve had double duty in this regard to our children. My Dad never met his grandkids. But I know that he and Cleveland would have gotten along splendidly. Every  child should have the opportunity to know their grandparents, so I’m very thankful that they will have great memories of Grandpa Cleveland.

Of course, if you’re a Grandpa, you were a Dad first, and what a remarkable Dad he was. To me, that was reflected in the way that Amber would greet him every time the phone rang, in a voice that I always enjoyed hearing. “Hi Daddy!” she would say, always in a beautiful tone that was reserved just for him. It was a greeting of warmth and gratitude and of a deep love of a daughter for her father.

Here’s what Cleveland’s granddaughter, Sabrina Shawn Suriani said at the funeral

October 8, 2011

Hi, my name is Sabrina Suriani, and my Grandpa was a great man. He loved amusement parks, and I am 100 percent sure that the reason I love amusement parks is because of him. I remember when I was younger he walked me through the amusement parks telling me how to win the games. Thanks to him, I saved $12 at the New York State Fair.

The best memory I have of my Grandpa is when he and I were sitting in my kitchen and he was teaching me how to draw stars. It took me 11 tries to get it, but it didn’t matter, I got to spend time with my Grandpa. I still use his way of making stars, and it works every time. I loved my Grandpa and I still do. I just hope he knows, so I wrote a poem for him:

The star of my life

The brightest at night

Follow him, he’ll show you how to win

Grandpa, you’re the one for me

Just promise me you’ll never leave

Here’s what Cleveland’s grandson, Benjamin Texas Suriani said at the funeral

October 8, 2011

There was a difference in what we called him — Dad, Grandpa, husband, uncle and employee. There was no difference of how people saw him: A nice gentleman who had a huge heart, loved animals and his jobs at amusement parks.

I knew him as Grandpa Cleveland. My name is Benjamin Texas. Benjamin came from my mother’s great Uncle Ben. My middle name, Texas, is unique up in Syracuse, NY. In fact, it might be even an unusual name in Texas. My mom chose Texas for her love of where she and her father, Grandpa Cleveland, were born and raised.

I loved my Grandpa’s sense of humor and his passion for animals and his job. I unfortunately wasn’t around to see him in action at his amazing and fun jobs, which is really too bad. From the stories that I have heard, thought, it was really exciting.

I love to listen to the stories my Mom will tell me about when she was young and her and my Uncle Trey would go with my Grandpa to his job. That was probably really fun because not only did they get to ride all the rides for free, but they also knew that there was at least one really nice gentleman, my Grandpa, looking after them.

My Grandpa also told many funny jokes. When I was young, I had teddy bear slippers on, and he would always say to me ‘Ben, how many times do I have to tell you not to walk around in bear feet!’ It was and still is my favorite joke.

I am very sad for his loss, as are all of you. My Grandpa is probably running an amusement park up in heaven, making even heaven a better place.

Here’s what Cleveland’s eldest grandchild, Nicholas Cleveland Suriani said at the funeral

October 8, 2011

For those who do not know me, Cleveland was my Grandfather & I am his oldest grandson proudly named Nicholas Cleveland — a middle name I can only hope to live up to because of the kind of person my grandfather was.

Life is too short, but my grandfather enjoyed his life all right! My Grandpa Cleve made the best of every situation and was such a central figure to our family.

I believed my Grandpa Cleve knew everything; guess I still feel that way today! I remember crusty eyed trying to get up at 5:00 AM like he always did wondering what was so great about getting up that early. Many times I would try to get up before him, but every time, there he was reading a newspaper with a coffee and a canine by his side. (I never did figure that one out!?)

I remember walking into amusement and water parks for free because I was with my Grandpa, thinking it was the Best thing Ever……And It Was!!

I know my Grandfather touched many people. For example, Grandpa Cleve gave his signed Joe DiMaggio baseball to my brother and me, which was replaced by a baseball signed by “somewhat less famous baseball players” my brother Ben and me.

Although we have had the opportunity to take many vacations together to Salt Lake City, San Miguel, New York City, the trip that stands out the most to me is my Grandpa driving me to the Fort Worth Bureau of Engraving where we got to see money being made. I guess the reason this trip stands out in my mind is that it was just Grandpa and me.

Our one-on-one conversation ranged from him enthusiastically asking me “do you like ice cream? and what’s your favorite kind?” to clear instructions on how to pick out a good watermelon.

I cannot see an older styled gray BMW without thinking of my Grandpa Cleveland because that is the only car I ever saw him drive. In fact, just yesterday, Ben, Hunter and I sat on Grandma’s front porch in anticipation of seeing our cousin Lucky drive up in that “memorable to us” gray 1988 BMW.

Another memory that will never fade is his smell, the Aramis cologne he always wore, especially noticed with his special hugs.

I remember how much of a gentlemen he was; he would always hold the door open for anyone. Grandpa Cleve was soft spoken, but a Champion at one liners!

My Grandpa lived his life, I know, to the fullest and will never be forgotten. Nor did he forgot when he waited one final time, like he always did….for my Grandma Sherry to hold his hand before ascending to Heaven, riding the coaster up and up and never coming back down!