Obituary: Roy C. Todd / Tireless founder and builder of White Swan Park
Nov. 14, 1916 - Sept. 2, 2012
September 8, 2012 4:00 AM
Roy C. Todd, 1991
By Ann Rodgers Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Roy C. Todd, a former coal miner who brought joy to countless local residents during the 35 years his family owned the former White Swan Park on the border of Findlay and Moon, died Sunday at his daughter's home in Mesa, Ariz. He was 95.
He grew up in North Fayette, and at 17 took a job in the coal mines. For five years, "he worked underground, in the little veins of coal, lying on his side," said a daughter, Janet Bundy of Moon.
He fell in love with the sister of one of his buddies, and married Katherine Valenti in 1941. Seven weeks later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he tried to enlist. The military rejected him due to a heart murmur. He spent the war as a welder at Westinghouse, building electric switch gear boxes for warships.
Around 1949, he and his wife, with his sister Margaret Kleenan and her husband, Edward, opened the Crafton Diner on Route 60, then the major highway to the airport. He built it himself, and followed with the Pittsburgh Motel.
Running two 24-hour businesses was a strain on the young couples, and they began to dream of more family-friendly enterprises. His sister had been told -- incorrectly -- that she could never have children, and she wanted a job that came with children, Ms. Bundy said.
Thus was born the dream of White Swan Park.
"We thought it would be a very easy business. ... We thought it was something a whole family could enjoy," Mr. Todd told the Post-Gazette in 1990. "There was nothing on this side of town. We thought it was a natural place for a park."
Mr. Todd personally cleared the 47 acres they bought in 1952 at what is now the intersection of I-376 and Business 60. He drained a swamp, built three lakes, poured the concrete and built the shelters.
From the beginning, it was a family business, with the owners living on site.
"When I was probably 12 he was cutting the trees. He would chain them together and had me riding the bulldozer to drag them to the other side of the property," Ms. Bundy said.
In 1953, he hired Bill Roedler, a young veteran, to run that bulldozer. He would work there long after the park opened in 1955.
"He was a beautiful man, a hard-working guy who made you want to go along with him," said Mr. Roedler of Oakdale. "He never had a hard word for nobody. He never got in an argument with nobody. He always talked real nice. I hated to see that park go. A lot of people around here say that."
It was named White Swan Park because they planned to have swans in the lakes. They dropped the idea after learning that the birds would be prey for local wildlife.
The park opened in 1955 with seven rides. It would build up to 15, along with mini-golf, a skating rink, arcade games and fishing in the lakes. It drew 100,000 people each season, and was a popular site for company picnics and reunions. White Swan was smaller than its competitors, with a price to match. All-day admission was $8 in its final season in 1989.
"What we were trying to do is keep everyone happy and satisfied. We weren't here to make a product line and see how much money we could make. We wanted people to leave happy and contented," Mr. Todd said.
At report card time, his sister offered two free ride tickets for every B and four for every A -- and quietly helped some young employees through college.
Mr. Todd was the maintenance man. When roller coaster operators needed a break, he filled in because he wouldn't trust anyone who didn't know the machines intimately. No job was beneath him. He cleaned up mounds of trash after closing many nights.
After a fire in 1966 destroyed part of the park, "He just fell right in and made the repairs. I don't think he missed a beat. He was a survivor," Ms. Bundy said.
He loved everything about the park, his daughter said, but he had a life beyond it. He was an elder at Valley Presbyterian Church in Imperial, and a voracious reader.
"He was a very, very brilliant man," she said. "He loved history and he could do math in his head that I would have to use a calculator to do."
His wife died in 1985, around the time they realized the park stood in the way of a planned expressway to the expanded airport. In 1989, PennDOT bought the land and facilities for more than $4 million. Mr. Todd didn't celebrate.
After first saying he couldn't bear to go, he attended the state's auction. The Galaxi Coaster went to Lubbock, Texas, the Mad Mouse to Altoona.
He felt as if he was burying a child.
"I nursed this thing from the time it was a baby," he told the Post-Gazette.
"If you have a death in the family, you have to go to the wake, don't you? If you're an adult, you have to go to the funeral. That's what it's like. It hurts."
Mr. Todd bought a home on several acres in Findlay.
"He kept that place looking like the park, with everything trimmed beautifully," Ms. Bundy said.
He also volunteered to work with Ms. Bundy's husband, who was renovating a large office building in Penn Hills. When Mr. Todd discovered that he was planning to replace dozens of oak doors, he was horrified.
"He stripped, sanded and refinished every single door. I would go up and see him and he would say, 'Here, feel this finish. It's smooth as glass.' He was so proud. Anything he did, he did to perfection."
He is survived by a sister, Grace Siry of Robinson; three daughters, Janet Bundy of Moon, Marlene Moore of Bluffton, S.C., and Kathy McDonald of Mesa, Ariz; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held today at 11 a.m. in Wharton-Herrick Funeral Home, Imperial, with interment in the Valley Cemetery in Imperial.