Women of Influence: Katie Dean

A view from the top…
Katie and Jimmy Dean founded Joyland Amusement Park, Lubbock, Texas, in 1973. They purchased a small park there known as Mackenzie Park Playground, which had originally opened in the 1940s.  It had 13 mostly kiddie rides in desperate need of some tender loving care. The Deans grew the park slowly but surely. Today the park boasts 30 rides and attractions with a seasonal payroll of more than 100 people. It is also one of a handful of family-owned amusement parks still operating in the U.S. today.


Accomplishments and affiliations…
• Member, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), since 1973
• Members, Family Owned and Managed Amusement Parks (FOAM),  since 1973

Celebrating her 100th birthday is a joy for Joyland’s founder
LUBBOCK, Texas — Katie Dean turned 100 on July 21. When asked what plans she had for her birthday, she said, very adamantly: “I’m going to Joyland.”

Then, she added: “I am looking forward to that. We’ll have cake there.”

And she did go, too. She welcomed her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at the amusement park she and her husband founded in 1973. Many of those there she has known for a long time. Some were former employees who are now visiting the park with their grandchildren. She mentored many of them.

Yet there will be some loved ones missing. Her husband and partner, Jimmy Dean, passed away in 1993. Her close, dear friends, Paul and Alethea Roads, founders of Wonderland Park in Amarillo, Texas, are both gone now as well, she said. He died in 2003 and she in 2016. 

And while memories can sometimes lead to sadness, Katie Dean certainly doesn’t seem to dwell on those details. 

“I have great memories,” she said.

 It isn’t as easy for her to get to Joyland these days due to a hip injury she sustained last February. But her injury hasn’t stopped her from calling the park often, speaking with her son, David Dean, who runs the park with his wife, Kristi. 

“The first question I always ask is how is the weather, because everything is dependent on that,” she said. 

Up until her injury, Katie Dean was at the park three days a week, greeting guests and making sure business ran smoothly. 

“After my dad was gone, she was here every day, every day, for many years,” her son said. 

Joyland Amusement Park greatly shadows the small amusement park that once stood the grounds. The Deans were in their 50s when they purchased it. That was a big leap for them.

At the time, they were living in Amarillo. They owned two arcades located in two separate malls and they owned several rides. The rides had been placed at Wonderland, Cliff’s Amusement Park, Albuquerque, N.M., and Funland, Wichita Falls, Texas.

They had spotted the small park a few years before and had been keeping an eye on it. When it went on the market, they sold the arcades, sold the rides, and Katie Dean transferred her job at the Texas Department of Transportation from Amarillo to Lubbock. And they hit the road. 

“It just felt like an opportunity,” Katie Dean said. “The previous owner had a loan so we just assumed that loan. I’m not sure we really knew what we were getting ourselves into.”

Her son had a somewhat different opinion of the move. 

“I wasn’t at all sure about this park,” said David Dean, who had just graduated from high school when his parents purchased it.

 “I thought, ‘what are we doing?’ I didn’t want to move to Lubbock at all. But, there we went.”

It was hard work, but they were used to it. They had been working hard since they married in 1943.

 Early in their marriage, Jimmy Dean joined the army and served two years in Germany during World War II. When he returned, he held a variety positions in a variety of industries. He kept striving to find a fit that would allow him to be his own boss. 

“There were so many new things going on then after the war,” Katie Dean said. “The war had limited what was available.”

Plus they had two young children. Their daughter, Mary Dean Haiduk, was born in 1948, and their son, David Dean, was born, in 1954.

One move they made while living in San Angelo, Texas, proved to be a choice that changed their lives and opened a door to the amusement business. The passion only grew from there. 

That move was the purchase of a Dairy Queen franchise, one of the first in Texas. That was where they met the Roads. 

“Paul Roads loved soft serve ice cream,” said David Dean. “He was working out at the air force base (Goodfellow Air Force Base, San Angelo) at the time. Every day on his way home from work, he would stop and get some ice cream.”

From then on the two couples were fast friends, traveling the world together over the years. When the Roads decided to move to Amarillo, Texas, to open Wonderland Amusement Park, it wasn’t too long before the Deans moved there as well. 

It was in Amarillo where Katie Dean got her job at the transportation department, ending up keeping that job for 20 years. Amarillo was where the Deans invested in the two arcades and the rides. And it was during that time they spotted that little park in Lubbock; that little park that seemed to keep calling, “I think I can. I think I can.”

“I know how my mom feels about this business,” her son said. “When you stop and look back at the years, you see that it isn’t just about business. The amusement park brings people together and brings smiles and it goes on for generations,” he said. “That is irreplaceable. That is why everyone works so hard.”

Later when Katie Dean was asked what was her favorite part of the amusement industry, the son sure knows the mom well. 

She said: “The great memories and all the people we have met and all the friends we have made.”

—Pam Sherborne