Jourden Marks Job Is Adventure

May 27, 2003
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MUSKEGON — She never intended to spend her career in the family business.

Not after she worked there as a young girl selling deer food, nor after working with her mother in the catering and food-service operations, and certainly not after college. After earning her degree, Camille Jourden-Mark planned to head off for a career in marketing and public relations.

But her father asked her to try it for a year. She agreed, taking a job in group sales that would put her education to good use.

That was 15 years ago.

Today, Jourden-Mark can’t envision a career in any other line of work than running Michigan’s Adventure, a growing amusement park north of Muskegon that began as a small petting zoo and is now one of Michigan’s largest tourist attractions.

“I love it. I can’t see myself doing anything different,” Jourden-Mark said as she strolled through the amusement park while crews prepared the grounds for the coming season. “It’s always been a part of my life.”

And it shows.

Jourden-Mark talks enthusiastically about the business of running the amusement park that her family once owned and grew, of growing up around the park, and the fondness and attachment she has to it.

Not one to miss a major event at the park, Jourden-Mark even passed up her college commencement to attend a press conference to unveil a new roller coaster in 1988, the year the park’s name was changed to Michigan’s Adventure. Jourden-Mark met her husband, Steve Mark, years ago while working at the park (he’s now Michigan Adventure’s vice president of maintenance and construction). They got married during the off-season, of course.

A mother of three children, ages 2, 6 and 11, she carefully balances time between work and family. She brings her youngest daughter to work each day, as she did with her older children, and takes her to lunch in the park and regularly to play in a water pool. A lover of amusement parks and roller coasters, she enjoys the occasional opportunities when she’s showing media or VIPs around the park and can join them for a ride on the Shivering Timbers, her favorite roller coaster, or another ride.

The view out her second-story office window provides a constant look out over the summer-time crowds and attractions of Michigan’s Adventure. The allure of the job is the daily chance to do something different every day, the lack of monotony, and the pure pleasure of working “some place where the whole reason people come here is to have fun.”

And where does the general manager of an amusement park vacation? Amusement parks, naturally.

“People used to say, ‘How in the world could you go to the amusement parks all the time?’ But it’s wonderful,” she said.

As vice president and general manager, the 37-year-old Jourden-Mark oversees operations at Michigan’s Adventure, which annually draws some 450,000 people during the May-to-September season.

Her first job at the park, when she was six years old, was selling deer food to visitors with her older sister, Lisa. She recalls how they argued over who got to serve the food and who got to take the money. She was soon transferred to the duck pond.

Michigan’s Adventure today is a far different place than it was when Jourden-Mark was growing up in a house that sat “right smack in the middle of the park,” between the petting zoo, known then as Deer Park Funland, and an adjacent water park.

The amusement park grew steadily over the years, as her father added new attractions and rides. The expansion accelerated in the past two years following Michigan’s Adventure’s acquisition by Cedar Fair LP, the $502 million Sandusky, Ohio-based parent corporation of Cedar Point that owns six amusements parks and an assortment of other attractions across the United States.

“It’s just constantly, constantly growing,” said Jourden-Mark, whose parents, Roger and Mary Lynn Jourden, bought Deer Park Funland in 1968.

“What we’re doing now is no different than what we’ve been doing that past 30 years, just constantly improving,” she said.

Cedar Fair last year put $6 million into Michigan’s Adventure to build seven new rides and other facilities and upgrade the grounds. The company followed that up with $1 million in capital projects this year, mostly to improve the park’s appearance with new fencing around rides, additional signage, benches and landscaping, and painting buildings to add color and create a more festive atmosphere.

Future improvements are on the way, she said.

“Our goal is to get everything to just look perfect before we put in any new attractions,” Jourden-Mark said.

Nearly two years after the acquisition, Jourden-Mark is happy with the park’s direction and future, although she didn’t initially greet the change so warmly.

The emotion of selling the family business, after going back and forth for several years, left her “crushed,” she said. Finally selling to Cedar Fair — which for years was considered “the enemy,” with its renowned Cedar Point amusement park — made things even worse.

Jourden-Mark, who was general manager at the time, wondered whether there was a role for her with the company. She argued that Cedar Fair, one the nation’s largest owners and operators of amusement parks, would never find anyone who cared more about the park’s future.

After bringing in a new general manager, Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel offered her the job of vice president of marketing and park operations.

She accepted the position with the understanding that she would have the opportunity to return to the general manager’s position in a few years. She also quickly warmed up to Cedar Fair, drawn to the family-oriented corporate culture that “made all the difference to me” and the resources of the corporation, including capital, management training and development, and networking with counterparts at Cedar Fair’s other parks.

Her opportunity to again manage Michigan’s Adventure came before the first season under Cedar Fair’s management was done, as the new GM left for one of the company’s other amusement parks. Jourden-Mark was named vice president and general manager in August 2001.

And she no longer sees Cedar Point as a competitor but an ally from which Michigan’s Adventure can learn and grow.

“Now when somebody comes up and says ‘Cedar Point is so much better,’ we say, ‘You bet it is, it’s the best,’” she said.    

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