The Twists and Turns of Managing Valleyfair

Dave Frazier has a long history with Valleyfair—he spent his summers there in the 1980s as a ride operator and supervisor, then a park-service manager before he was tapped in 1992 to help launch the Mall of America’s amusement park. Frazier saw the MOA park through its years as Camp Snoopy and its transition to Nickelodeon Universe before returning to Valleyfair. Today he serves as the Shakopee amusement park’s general manager, employee mentor, and even waterslide-tester for this summer’s Soak City expansion.

“I’ve been in this park every year since it opened in 1976, when I was 11 years old. My dad worked at the Green Giant [company] in the summers, and he started running the boiler for the park’s Corn Feast event on Labor Day weekend, so I’d come with him. I’d work here in the summers and would just keep getting promoted, so I kept coming back.”

“When I worked here in the ’80s, the uniforms were just horrible. We had to wear suspenders and knickers. But I’m 6’6”, so the knee-socks and the knickers never met.”

“I met my wife working here in 1987. She was a ride operator and then a team leader for the Corkscrew. We hire 1,600 people every summer—you always run into someone who knows someone who worked here.”

“My first job in La Sueur growing up was at the Green Giant canning factory, cleaning bathrooms. One of the reasons they hired me at the Mall of America was they knew I had experience not just with the rides, but also with running the parks and knowing how the bathrooms needed to be cleaned. My first job there was to figure out how many garbage cans we needed. They only had money for 150—that wasn’t enough.”

“I’ve ridden rides that have been half-built in factories to test the prototypes—I’ve been the guinea pig. There’s one ride at Nickelodeon Universe, Brain Surge, that I rode in a factory in Wichita. When you only have seven acres, like at Mall of America, you want to pick really unique and interesting rides.”

“I’m afraid of heights, but not on a roller coaster—there, I’m locked in. As most people get older, though, they can’t handle the spinning rides as much. I can’t go on the Scrambler or the Enterprise any more, because they make me sick. But put me on the highest, fastest rides and that’s not a problem at all.”

“One of my passions is to make Valleyfair an [employment] education center. We take 14- and 15-year-olds and teach them to set up their schedule and show up on time. And when they get a little older, they learn the leadership piece—doing what’s expected of you even if someone’s not watching over your shoulder. Later, they become supervisors, managers, people trying to run their own little businesses. So if they’ve worked here, they’re probably a pretty good employee who you’re going to want to hire somewhere.”

“I forget about how much attachment people have to Valleyfair—it’s a hometown thing, a Minnesota park. People think of me like the owner—you’re taking care of something that’s really valuable to people.”