Obituary: Carl Hughes / 'Man who truly created Kennywood' never really retired

July 18, 1921 - Dec. 29, 2012

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Carl Hughes wrote the slogan for Kennywood's Kiddieland -- the one that reads "The most beautiful music in the world is the sound of children laughing."

In the five-plus decades that he worked at Kennywood -- rising from part-time publicity assistant to president and chairman of the board -- Mr. Hughes worked tirelessly to make his words come true.

"He was the man who truly created Kennywood," said Harry Henninger, who retired as Kennywood's chief executive officer when the park was sold in 2008. "He made it his mission to make it a much greater place, and he achieved it."

Mr. Hughes died Saturday of heart failure in his Mount Washington home. He was 91.

He was born in Johnstown and graduated from Geneva College. He started working as a sportswriter for The Pittsburgh Press in 1943, covering the makeshift wartime "Card-Pitts" football team that was the amalgamation of the Chicago Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The team -- which badly lost all 10 games it played -- was nicknamed the Carpets by Mr. Hughes and other sportswriters, recalled Mr. Hughes' close friend and fellow sportswriter Roy McHugh.

Mr. Hughes broke the story of the University of Pittsburgh football coach Clark Shaughnessy moonlighting as a coach of the Washington Redskins -- a story that got him both kicked out of the Pitt locker room and a $5 raise from his editor, recalled Mr. McHugh in a written remembrance.

He also covered boxing for the Press, befriending Art Rooney Sr., who owned a Downtown boxing club as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mr. Rooney nicknamed him "The Mighty Atom" -- a nod to his short stature, according to a 1999 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profile.

In addition to sportswriting, Mr. Hughes sometimes would help a friend who was in charge of publicity for Kennywood with writing news releases.

Mr. Hughes' work with both the Press and Kennywood was put on hold when he was drafted into the Army at the end of World War II and sent to the Philippines.

He returned in 1947, staying employed at the Press and taking on the publicity work for Kennywood as a part-time job. In 1956, concerned about supporting his wife and two daughters on a newspaper salary, Mr. Hughes joined Kennywood full time.

His initial job of coordinating park sales and publicity changed dramatically three years later, when Mr. Hughes' boss, Carl Henninger, died of a heart attack, and Mr. Hughes was made manager of the park.

Around that time, said Harry Henninger, who starting working at the park in 1963, Kennywood was considered just an average amusement park with average facilities. Mr. Hughes aspired to turn it into something more.

A natural historian, he campaigned -- successfully -- for its inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places, making it in 1987 the first amusement park to receive that distinction.

He also had a "constant drive for perfection" and a vision for "keeping the park beautiful," Mr. Henninger said. "It wasn't just a roller coaster, it was a feeling that you wanted to have throughout the park for family entertainment."

Mr. Hughes often worked six or seven days a week.

He never left the park for the day without complimenting at least one employee on a job well done, said his daughter, Mary Lou Rosemeyer, even if that meant wandering the park at night looking for a ride attendant treating a guest particularly well.

He considered himself just one of Kennywood's many team members and on busy days when employees had to use satellite parking offsite, he would, too. "He did that even when he was 80," said Ms. Rosemeyer, who worked at Kennywood for 23 years. "He would park his Corvette and walk down. If the folks that worked the front lines had to do it, he had to do it, too."

He used creative tactics in public relations and marketing, employing one lesson he learned from Art Rooney Sr.'s father, Dan Rooney, who owned the General Braddock Brewery in Braddock. As recalled in the 1999 Post-Gazette profile, Mr. Hughes had read a beer labeled "premium" and asked Dan Rooney, "How do you become a premium beer?"

"Young man, the first thing you do is tell your printer," Rooney replied.

And so, Mr. Hughes quickly dubbed Kennywood "The Roller Coaster Capital of the World."

Kennywood expanded greatly under Mr. Hughes' tenure, adding rides such as the Log Jammer and The Laser Loop and buying and opening other parks such as Idlewild in 1983 and Sandcastle in 1989.

Putting a Neighborhood of Make-Believe attraction into Idlewild, he befriended Fred Rogers of the "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" television show. The two would exchange humorous gifts -- Rogers custom-ordered him a 4-foot replica of a blue Flair pen that both men used reliably.

Whenever a Friday the 13th came about, Mr. Hughes would send Rogers a birthday card for King Friday. Rogers returned the favor, sending Mr. Hughes a birthday card every year from Lady Elaine Fairchilde in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Mr. Hughes struggled with heart trouble in his later life, having two heart attacks and undergoing four triple bypass surgeries, his daughter said. Taking the inaugural ride of the Steel Phantom roller coaster in 1991 -- ignoring posted warnings that those with heart conditions shouldn't ride -- he joked to onlookers, "Get your cameras so when we come back dead, people can see what happens when you disobey signs," according to the 1999 Post-Gazette profile.

Mr. Hughes never really retired from Kennywood, Mr. Henninger said.

"He really took Kennywood from just a little -- kind of dirty -- park into one that was envied by park owners around the world," Ms. Rosemeyer said. "That was his goal, to make it the finest traditional amusement park anywhere."

In addition to Ms. Rosemeyer, Mr. Hughes is survived by his wife, Anny Hughes; another daughter, Lynn Cauley of Pittsburgh; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

The family will hold a memorial service at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Smithfield United Church of Christ, 620 Smithfield St., Downtown. The family asks donations be sent to Geneva College or Smithfield United Church of Christ.

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Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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