Sunday, April 24, 2005 3:15 AM
New COO missed seasons, Sandusky and opening day for parks.
By BRANDI BARHITE
SANDUSKY - Cedar Fair's new chief operating officer, Jack Falfas, is glad to be back where he can wear two types of shirts to work and experience the excitement of opening day again.
Jack Falfas, new COO of Cedar Fair, returned to the Sandusky area after a stint at Knotts Berry Farm in California. Register photo/ABIGAIL BOBROW
The former vice president and general manager of West Coast Operations for Cedar Fair, said at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, near Los Angeles, he wore long sleeves yearlong because of the lack of humidity.
However, in Ohio, it's long shirts in the winter and short shirts in the summer.
"I just think that Sandusky is probably one of the greatest places in the world to live," the 53-year-old said about his April homecoming to work with his mentor, Cedar Fair CEO and president Dick Kinzel.
"I got hooked on it. I love the summers. I love the fall. I love how everyone is into football and their high schools. Anybody can put up with freezing in January and February."
Falfas began his love affair with Cedar Point in 1970 as a seasonal employee in charge of running the Monster thrill ride.
Falfas was a college football player at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W. Va., and was majoring in pre-medicine at the urging of his father.
He started working at Cedar Point for all the wrong reasons, he said.
He had heard that Cedar Point had seven girls for every guy. However, eventually, he did meet his future wife, Barb, at the park.
But like many future full-time Cedar Point employees, the park became less about girls and more about the job, and "it got into my blood," Falfas said.
When a football injury forced him to quit the sport, he changed his major to marketing and business administration because he never really wanted to be a doctor, he said.
In 1975, when Kinzel, then the director of operations at Cedar Point, asked him to take a job as a manager of park admissions, he jumped at it.
He was so excited, he asked to be excused from graduation ceremonies so he could start sooner.
"After I took my last final, the next day I went to my sister's wedding, and then I left to work at Cedar Point," Falfas said.
As manager of park admissions and later vice president of ride operations, Falfas' love for Cedar Point grew, as did his admiration for Kinzel.
Kinzel was his mentor, Falfas said, and he liked his hands-on style, which is how he did business as well.
With Falfas' newest job as COO, Falfas is considered Kinzel's right-hand man.
Although a replacement hasn't been named, the creation of the new COO position within is a potential step toward the long-term transition of replacing Kinzel, who is retiring at the end of the 2007 season.
"I can't get my hopes up for CEO," Falfas said. "As far as I am concerned, Dick Kinzel is my CEO. He has been the constant leader for so long, and I don't think anybody wants to look forward to him leaving."
Falfas said he and Kinzel are alike in a lot of ways, including their love of being out in the park among guests.
"I am a very hands-on type of person, and I like to know about the people I work with," Falfas said.
In 1997, when Kinzel asked Falfas to leave Cedar Point and take over Cedar Point's new sister park, Knott's Berry Farm, Falfas was excited, but sad to leave Cedar Point -- and the Sandusky area.
Over the years, Falfas served on the Margaretta School Board, worked as a reserve police officer for the Sandusky Police Department and coached freshman football for Huron City Schools.
"Cedar Point is really the best park in the world," Falfas said. "It was hard to leave. I had tons of friends in Sandusky and I came back frequently.
"There is a lot to be said for that Saturday and Sunday off in the offseason," he said. "Knott's is only closed on Christmas. Sometimes, I miss the excitement of opening day."
However, it was his time at Knott's Berry Farm and later promotion to vice president and general manager of West Coast Operations that prepared him for his newest job with Kinzel, he said.
Part of Falfas' duties as COO will include overseeing the day-to-day operations of the partnership, while Kinzel will focus more on the future growth of the company.
"We have been together a long time and with Dick's 20 years at the helm, he really rebuilt this company and I am here to support him."
Falfas said his work on the West Coast made him a competitor, and taught him how to work with state legislatures.
"Disney is seven miles from our door, and we have to watch what they are doing and adjust for it, Falfas said. "Knott's was a great park with a good reputation, but needed some cash put into it."
Falfas said he also learned about diversity while in California because of the large Spanish and Japanese markets. He even got used to being called, "El Falfas."
"Knott's makes money now," Falfas said. "It returns a lot to the unit holders. That is one of things that is important to us."
Also, "I think it taught me to grow up and expand my boundaries," he said of his California experience.
Even so, it's nice to back at Cedar Point and in Sandusky, and soon, his wife and three children, Brock, Alissa and Jeffrey, will join him, he said.
Although in his first 27 years at Cedar Point, he lived in Sandusky, Huron and Castalia, he thinks this time it will probably be just Sandusky.
"I had my taste of California," Falfas said. "I am just excited about coming back to Sandusky. More than anything, I consider this my hometown."
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