click to enlarge Doug Knight, always learning
PHOTO BY DIANNE CROWN
Doug Knight: “We try to wow our guests with everything we do.”

Not much stands still when Doug Knight is involved. The tall, suntanned, jovial Knight lives a life that takes the energy of a marathon runner, the focus of a circus juggler, and the courage of a day trader. Springfield resident Knight co-owns and operates Knight's Action Park on the south side of Springfield, has supported the education and activities of four busy children, and maintains lifelong area friendships and community involvement. We interviewed Knight about the park and how he keeps his busy life moving forward with a smile and sense of humor.

Q – Knight's didn't start out as a 60-acre multi-attraction recreation and waterpark playground. How has it grown since 1952?

Knight – It started as a "family entertainment center." That's what places with batting cages, go-karts, miniature golf and a driving range were called when my grandparents and parents were getting started. We became Knight's Recreation Park in the 1950s, moved to our present location in 1976, and built our first water slide in 1980. Shortly after, we changed the name to Knight's Action Park, and the next big addition was children's Seal Bay with little water slides and a relaxation pool in 1992.

Since then, we've added Action River, the big pirate ship, a classic 1930s Ferris wheel, wave pool, drive-in movie theaters, the Devil Ray and Royal Flush, Bermuda Triangle water slide tower, and, in 2018, the Camille's Reef multilevel, wheelchair-accessible water playground named after my daughter. This year we'll open the Big Surf machine. It's going to be an amazing attraction. We've turned a three-flume water slide into a full-fledged water park.

There's always room to grow. We keep experimenting and learning all the time. A few years ago, we created Fright's Action Park for Halloween. It is a lot of work, and we've had to work out some bugs, but we make it better each year. Now, I think we're putting on a nice show with actors, costumes and features.

Q – There have been some challenges through the years, and every day is a demanding, physical job. How do you keep going?

Knight – You just keep getting up every day and doing it. I've always taken pride in everything I've done. A lot of nights I do leave here tired and numb. But I try to keep balance in my life and find something to laugh about. There's humor in everything if you look for it. There isn't a single job out here I won't do, and haven't done, and I can service and operate every machine in the park. But my favorite job is working with a broom and dustpan. It's satisfying, and you can learn a lot from sweeping up and watching people.

And we're always upping what we do. We attend the international amusement parks and attractions expo in Florida to see what's new, and we are always working to improve, from the landscaping and paint to every new attraction.

Q – Did this pride and discipline come from your parents?

Knight – Somewhat, yes. I grew up in the park, worked all the jobs, learned how to rebuild the engines. But I was also in Springfield's drum and bugle corps. We had to be there for practice twice a week. We traveled every weekend for parades and contests. We ate what was available, changed clothes on the bus, it was all for one and one for all. So, yes, that work ethic goes all the way back.

I admit to being a perfectionist, which can be a good thing and a terrible thing, too. But, I've been the general contractor on everything out here since 1980. I'm here every day. We try to wow our guests with everything we do, and I look at things from the guests' eyes. I try to instill that in our staff, too.

 

Q – Knight's Action Park is a leading employer of high school youth in the area, which you've said is important to your business and to you personally. You mentor them.

Knight – We hire about 220 high school and college youth each year. For many of them, it's their first job, so we teach them more than job skills – the importance of a good handshake, how to speak clearly, what to wear when they travel, how to write their first resumé for the dream job they've always wanted, and about respect, work ethic and attitude.

It's not an easy time for teenagers. Life's a struggle. When you can reach out to help someone get on the right path, everybody is better off.

DiAnne Crown

DiAnne Crown is a longtime freelance writer based in Springfield and former editor of Springfield Parent Magazine.

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