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.

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Honoring Dads who are being stolen by dementias

June 19, 2010

Since I really could not have said it better myself, I’m turning my blog over to Loren B. Shook in honor of Father’s Day. He is president and chief executive officer of Silverado Senior Living. My Dad residents in one of Silverado’s 34 facilities. Here’s Mr. Shook:

All of us fortunate enough to grow up with loving fathers are who we are today thanks to the lessons they taught us. Whether it was how to fish, ride a bike, or throw a baseball, or the values of hard work, integrity, kindness and strength, what Dad showed us decades ago remains at our core.

As one who works with the memory-impaired, I believe the growing number of now-elderly fathers whose memories are disordered are teaching us a new kind of lesson. Understanding this lesson can resolve the anguish many of us so-called “adult children” of those with Alzheimer’s disease are feeling as Dad’s recognition of us and his ability to communicate slip away.

It’s the lesson of selfless love.

Time and again, I hear the same question from sons and daughters: “Why should I visit Dad if he doesn’t know who I am and if he won’t remember I was there?” Written out, it sounds shocking, but when spoken, it’s always tinged with profound sorrow and hurt. It’s understandable. When a father is so much a part of your own being, who are you if he no longer knows you?

My answer is always this: Your father needs you now more than ever, and what he needs from you is simpler than ever, too. Because the greatest pleasure you can give your father now is the gift of your time and your presence. You see, the worst pain suffered by the memory-impaired comes from their sense of loneliness and worthlessness. Just as you may feel that your father’s condition has come between the two of you, he feels increasingly isolated from the world and from the things that have always mattered. It’s no wonder that depression goes hand-in-hand with memory impairment, and sadly, it further aggravates health, both emotionally and physically.

While your dad might no longer realize who you are or greet you by name, it’s more important than ever for you to spend time with him. Just being at his side brings him greater joy than you can likely even imagine. He may not be able to express this pleasure in a way that you understand, or that the world at large comprehends, but without a doubt, he feels it and he feels that he is loved. In this way, you are nourishing his spirit, and the value of this is indescribable.

So I encourage you to take the occasion on Father’s Day to honor your dad in this way. Whether he resides in a senior care community or is receiving care in his own home, visit him and stay by his side for a while. Even if you can’t have the kind of conversation you used to have, there are still ways to make the time together meaningful.

The great thing is that they’re simple. If he has always loved a certain kind of music, bring a CD of it and listen to it with him. Those fishing trips and baseball games Dad took you to when you were a child? If you have pictures of them, go through them. Long-term memories are more durable than short-term in the memory-impaired, and I am certain he will enjoy looking through those photos with you. Even a box of candies that he has always fancied can brighten his day.

Yes, I know, after you leave you will have no assurance that he will remember that you were there.

But understand that it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that during the time you spent with him, he knew he was loved, and that intangible emotion will definitely have a lasting positive impact on him.

The longer that I work with those with memory-impairment, the more clearly I understand the importance of something that I once heard: that it’s when you give a gift selflessly that you will get the most in return. When you give your love selflessly to your father, not only will he benefit, but you will, too. You strengthen his spirit and your own.

So you see, your dad is still teaching all of us a very important lesson.

Thank you, Mr. Shook.