Women of Influence: Linda Hays

A view from the top…
Cliff’s Amusement Park, Albuquerque, N.M., was first opened as Uncle Cliff’s Kiddyland in 1959 by Cliff and Zella Hammond. In its early days, it moved twice, once in 1961 and again in 1963,  before landing where it is today. In 1974, at the age of 24, their daughter and her husband, Linda and Gary Hays, took over operations of the park.


Cliff’s is now 18 acres in size and has 24 rides as well as a water recreation area called Water Mania.

Accomplishments and affiliations…
• Pennsylvania Amusement Parks and Attractions (PAPA), 2015-2016; first woman board member and first woman president (2017) International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), first woman to serve on the board of directions, 1991-93

• Recipient of 2003 “Publisher’s Pick” Golden Ticket Award

• Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, board member 1997-2000, received Superior Service Award from same, 1998

• Served as Honorary Commander, 551st Special Operations Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque

Hard work has served her well

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.  — The words Linda Hays uses now about her life in the amusement park industry, such as grateful and privilege, are not exactly the same ones she used occasionally as a child. 

The word “unfair” may have been the most common word used back then. 

“I had to work and work hard when all my friends didn’t have to,” she said. “I just thought it was unfair sometimes. I was working all summer long; so was my older brother, Carl, while our friends were taking their summer vacations.”

Unknown to her at that young age in her life, however, was that she was actually building a pathway that not many of her friends had the privilege of building. She was shaping and strengthening her work ethic. She was laying the framework of her life.

“But, looking back now, I feel it has been such a privilege to be in this business for all these years,” she said. “I am so grateful to my parents. I am grateful to have been born into this business. It is so unique. It is a business  and has to be run as a business, but we are in the business of providing fun. I’ve seen that almost my entire life.

“But, when I was younger, I thought I would do anything but stay in this industry, ” she said. 

Hays was born to Cliff (now deceased)  and Zella (now 98 years old) Hammond. She doesn’t remember a time she didn’t work hard. Her father, who had retired from the U.S. Army Air Corps as an air traffic controller, had received 100 acres of land in Rupert, Idaho, as a part of a veterans program. 

“To keep that land, we had to work it and make it successful,” Hays said. “It was covered with sage brush when we came. We had to clear it, plant it, and irrigate it.  It was very hard work for all of us.”

The work proved to be so difficult, her father sold it, got a job as an air traffic controller in Albuquerque and moved the family south. 

That work also was stressful, but not what her father planned to do forever. He kept searching for a better future and found it in the family’s visits to local amusement parks. He invested his money from the farm sale, leased a small portion of city-owned land and purchased go-karts and a few kiddie rides. Uncle Cliff’s Kiddyland was born. At nine years of age, Hays began her life in the amusement park industry.

The early years weren’t easy, but they all worked together and the business began to grow.

Somewhere along the way, while Hays and her brother were in high school, her brother made an announcement that he wouldn’t be taking over the family business. He had found his passion in music. It was a shock. Everyone had assumed he would, but they worked through it and continued even if  the future seemed uncertain.

Hays can’t really remember when the idea of her taking over began to take root. 

“Back then, a daughter taking over just wasn’t very common,” she said. 

 She worked as a waitress, a secretary. She dabbled in computer science and electronics.

“But, I kept going back to the park,” she said. 

When she and her husband married, they were both in their early 20s. The two worked in the park together and found they worked well together. 

At some point, she realized that “we were totally made to do this.”

By her  24th birthday, her parents had realized that as well and turned the park operations over to her. 

“It was like I got this by default, but this is exactly what I was supposed to do.” 

She and her husband grew the business. They were gutsy. They took risks, but took calculated risks. 

“You have to keep adding new things, but you have to do your homework.”

 She never really felt disadvantaged because she was a woman. On occasion, when she would tell an outside vendor something he didn’t like, “they would ask to talk to my boss.”

“That only ramped me up. But, within this industry, I never had a problem. I was never looked down on. In this business, a woman has to work as hard as a man or you don’t succeed.” 

They worked hard to instill good work ethics in their children. Her son, Justin, and daughter, Tracy, both worked in the park and both were fired at one time or another. Now, Justin has started the takeover transition. 

Hays feels she will always be in the industry. It hasn’t just been a job. It has been her life. Her brother, who now lives in Chili, N.M., followed his passion; he still plays the trombone, writes symphony music and is a conductor. 

And she followed her passion. 

“It’s funny when you look back on the tapestry of your life, how things work together to work out in the end.” 

—Pam Sherborne

This article appears in the DECEMBER 2018 issue of Amusement Today.
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