SACO, Maine — Violet Cormier met her late husband, Ken Cormier, when she was just 12 years old.
She said she always knew he was the one, but the two made things official by tying the knot in 1952. Violet was 17. Ken was 20.
Three kids and several years later, the Cormiers were presented with an unexpected opportunity.
"My wonderful mom, who I was very close to, said to me, 'If I put $100,000 in your hands, can you start a business?'" Cormier said. "I looked at her and I said, 'You've got to be kidding.'"
In 1959, the pair used the money to buy land off of US Route 1 in Saco. Ken's brother had opened a mini-golf course right across the street. Then, the couple opened Marvel Drive-In shortly after. They served hot food and ice cream.
"We figured people would play mini golf, and then they'll be hungry and cross over to buy a snack," Cormier said. "[It was] before Burger King and McDonald's. There were not that many outdoor take out [spots], so we were one of the few, and this part of the area was a dead zone."
It wasn't long after until the Cormiers added batting cages, archery, and more.
By 1967, the couple's dream of creating an amusement park sparked, and little by little, they made it happen.
Funtown USA opened in 1967 and in 1996, the Cormiers bought 'Cascade Water and Amusement Park.' The park was then renamed Funtown Splashtown USA.
"It was never a blueprint of 'we're going to build a park' — that was the farthest thing from my mind, actually," Cormier said. "We didn't know what we were doing; we didn't even know what we were starting — it just evolved in time and it's like a puzzle: 'After a few years we'll do this, we'll do that.' We kept adding things and this is what it is. It's not Disney by [any] means, but it's my baby Disney."
Funtown Splashtown USA has grown into one of Maine and New England’s largest amusement parks.
Violet calls it a labor of love, but it’s also something else, a family affair. Every single one of Violet’s children works at the park alongside her grandchildren. They are in charge of everything from hand-painting signs to performing maintenance on rides.
"And once my great-grandson starts high school, he has a job lined up already, wanting it or not, you’re going to work," Cormier said laughing. "That’s something I did with my kids. They had to work because we spent our time building it up. 'Building it up' means we couldn't be on the golf course or on the beach. We had to be here and... don't mind being here. We kind of love being here because we're proud of what we've done over all these years."
Throughout her ownership, Violet has stopped and thought about her time at the park… and whether or not the life she and her husband built was worth the sacrifice that came with it. That was until a few years ago when Violet said she met a young boy while she was working at the main gate.
"I grabbed his arm to put a bracelet on and I noticed all his fingers were stuck in dirt. They were tight together, and I thought to myself, 'It's good that he comes to the park, this will be good for this little kid.' His sneakers were all worn — you could tell that he wasn't in a good place, and then suddenly he looked at me and he said, 'This is going to be the best day of my life,'" Cormier said. "I said God, I belong here... All these doubts and thoughts in my head, this young kid had the answer. This seven-year-old put me in my place."
You can still find Violet at the park every day. Most days, she is at the main gate greeting visitors, strolling through the park, or sitting at her favorite bar that oversees the pools at Splashtown.
She even leads orientation for new employees. Her motto: Treat every day like it's a party.
"Prepare to come to work and be at a party. You're the host, and I count on you to greet my guests with the best smile and the best interaction you can give them so that they enjoy the park," Cormier said. "You don't come just to a job, you come to a party and they understand that."
Coming to work is something she has looked forward to since she was just 24 years old, and it's the little moments along the way that keeps her and her family looking toward the future.
"I have friends who own boats; I have friends with summer camps and they enjoy the summer," Cormier said. "The season is very short and we choose to do this. Why? Because we love it. It's a labor of love. To see hundreds, sometimes we have three four five thousand people in the park at the end of the day, and they're smiling and they're having fun. That's the rewarding part of why we're here."