September 2012 – Silver Dollar City, one of the nation's favorite family theme parks, started with a hole in the ground. Literally, a hole in the ground - Marvel Cave. Hugo and Mary Herschend and their sons Jack and Pete opened Marvel Cave in the mid 1950s in hopes of creating a regional roadside attraction in the Branson, Missouri, Ozark Mountains.
Since that beginning, the Herschend story has been one of hard work, integrity, faith, family and business success. Along the way, they put SDC on the map as far more than a roadside attraction. As amusement parks go, SDC is a pretty big deal. It's every bit as clean, every bit as friendly, every bit as "Dad, can we go there?" as any family attraction one can imagine.
What sets the Branson flagship attraction apart more than 50 years later is still its story. Guests at SDC will notice a higher level of modesty in dress, especially among park personnel, and many of their shows include Christian performances. One can even expect to hear the gospel shared without apology.
When parents pay good money to be entertained, to experience thrilling rides, to learn a bit, they want to know they will not be taken advantage of, that no one is out to deconstruct or diminish the traditional Christian values they've spent years building. In a nutshell, they want to relax and enjoy some fun family time. At SDC, they soon learn they can trust their Ozark hosts.
In an age of political correctness and immoral secular entertainment, leadership at SDC is never afraid to share the love of God, reach out and even preach at times. The park has a chaplain on staff to serve both employees and guests. SDC goes the extra mile to earn the trust of their family guests.
It's tough to run a business with a Christian worldview in a secular environment that increasingly flaunts an amoral worldview, but SDC does it. While the attraction is very popular, one gets the feeling that it might not be a fit for everyone, and SDC is OK with that. General manager Brad Thomas said, "If someone wants to go to a place where it's OK to see an American flag, hear some gospel music and stand in respect, this is the place for you. If you are a person who is uncomfortable with these things, maybe it's not the place for you."
The Herschend family started the business with a firm belief that if they take care of employees and guests and love the Lord, He will bless their efforts. Herschend Family Entertainment now owns, operates or partners in 26 entertainment, tourism and hospitality properties in 10 states.
While visitors can witness a solid Christian testimony inside the parks, there are also benefits of working for a Christian-led business. Opportunities for Christian fellowship abound in the SDC family. Bible studies among staff members are encouraged, and the facilities are made available for such.
They have programs with Young Life and Navigators who send young people to work at the park for the summer. These agreements include discipleship programs in the evenings. In addition, HFE properties utilize the Share It Forward Foundation. One of the components of SIF is the Nurse Advocate Program. These nurses are paid to get to know all the employees in an effort to recognize any needs, whether they be spiritual, physical or emotional. A nurse advocate is plugged in to all the necessary resources to get the hurting employee whatever is needed for healing.
Employees are encouraged to be a blessing to their community and the world. As they volunteer for local service or short-term missions, their time is rewarded by the company with days off work. Operation Christmas Child and Salvation Army are two organizations which are specifically promoted for employee involvement.
Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, has written Love Works, a management book in which he identifies seven principles of leadership: patience, kindness, trust, unselfishness, truthfulness, forgiveness and dedication. These principles are based on 1 Corinthians 13.
Manby said that, in all his training and experience in business, no one taught him that the greatest principle in management is love. He credits Jack and Peter Herschend for teaching him that after he came to SDC.
Incidentally, Manby also wrote, "In fact, humility is the eighth principle of leading with agape love that HFE leaders are asked to adhere to. Of course, the minute we try to be humble, we aren't - because we are focused on ourselves, which is why there is no chapter on humility! We become humble only as we focus on others."
One might rightly assume that SDC gets its share of criticism for the company's old fashioned values and its commitment to wholesome entertainment. It's hard to imagine anyone protesting the highest grade of rides and entertainment available, topped off with great customer care and employee care, as well as reaching out to the community. But it happens in a culture growing more and more hostile to anything that reflects Christian values.
Still, the bottom line is this: From a distance, Silver Dollar City might seem to be just another wacky theme park. But once guests step a little closer, they experience something extraordinary, something that truly does set it apart. It's a sense of comfort. It's an uncompromising, non-condemning love for Christ, a love for the country and a love for all people.
Just as sure as you can expect to see a good fight at a hockey game, you can expect to see love in action at Silver Dollar City. Leaders behind SDC and HFE realize that some people won't fully understand them, and that's just fine with them. But in a culture where values seem to waffle with the winds of cultural change, the values of the SDC family remain grounded - grounded on the Word of God.
Many SDC employees have been there for over 30 years. This in itself is a testimony to the fact that the Herschends' Christian values are working in their business - and they are worth carrying forward. So the story will go on.
Rick Todd, a 46-year employee, said, "I don't have any idea what [the future] is going to look like. If in 2062 we are able to deliver that same agape love, we'll be just fine."
CEO on'Undercover Boss'
As revealed on the hit television show Undercover Boss, Joel Manby, CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, daily demonstrates the servant-based leadership he has written about in Love Works, now available at most booksellers.
After some 18 million viewers watched the Undercover Boss episode, Manby received a flood of mail from people seeking further information. He said, "I never imagined how people from across the world would embrace our company and culture like they did. People were starving for a better way to lead."
Upcoming Big Events
• Southern Gospel Picnic, August 24-September 3
•National Harvest Festival, September 13- October 27
• Homeschool Weekend, October 6-7
• An Old Time Christmas, November 3- December 30
• For more information: www.silverdollarcity.com, 800-475-9370