Women of Influence: Lisa Rau

A view from the top…

Silver Dollar City, the 1880s-style theme park nestled in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, was founded atop the massive national landmark, the great Marvel Cave. The park offers 40 rides and attractions, a demonstrating crafts colony 100 artisans strong and hosts 10 world-class festivals and special events.

It officially was founded by the Herschend family that still owns and operates the park today. 

Lisa Rau

Lisa Rau has led the publicity and communications team at the park since 1990, only the second person to have been in that position. 

Career is a vacation everyday

BRANSON, Mo. — As Lisa Rau moves from location to location across the expanse of Silver Dollar City, her thoughts, most likely, stay in the present. She is making sure a show is running smoothly. She passes by a concession, checking in with the employee asking about their families and chatting with guests. She is making appointments and phone calls on her cell. She is speaking and laughing with guests.

She also is coordinating product launches, writing press releases and  reaching out to other Herschend properties as they all come together to support each other. 

Her job runs the gamut daily.

And, still, after 32 years, she says: “I am super excited every single day I am here. It feels good every day.”

However, a self described historian and a curious person as well, there are times, when it is quiet, her thoughts will wonder back to the beginnings of Silver Dollar City and  the  historical significance of it all, which still excites her.

Her thoughts return to the 1950s when the Herschend family took over operations of Marvel Cave tours from the Lynch family. Back when Hugo Herschend and his wife, Mary Herschend, signed a lease to the property. Because he spent much of his time working in Chicago, she and her sons, Jack and Pete, were the mainstays of the operations.

In the first year the Herschends took over operations, the cave tours drew 8,000 people. 

“Just think about that,” she said, still in wonder how one woman and her two sons, primarily, created such a feat as they began expanding attractions above ground. 

She doesn’t try to separate the two, the park and its history. She continues trying to bring it together. 

She always seems to find a way. 

Rau grew up surrounded by creativity. Born and raised right outside Detroit, Michigan, one of her favorite things to do was to spy on her dad, who was the creative director for Chevrolet.

His friends and coworkers would gather at her home to brainstorm, share innovative ideas and create visionary ways to tell the story of Chevrolet. 

Rau and her sister would sit and listen. She said she learned so much about creativity during those years. Just to watch him and his friends be so creative, it seemed full of adventure.

Rau always believed that she would end up with a career in communications in television and radio. Even in high school she was the anchor of her school’s closed circuit TV station. 

When she graduated from high school, she attended Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and received a communications degree. She worked at an NBC affiliate station in Columbia upon graduation, then ended up in Chicago at WGN

From there she moved back to Missouri, to another NBC affiliate in Springfield where she stayed for just under seven years. She started there in weather, then moved into reporting, then became an anchor.  She concentrated on environmental stories and ended up receiving five Associated Press awards for investigative journalism. 

One day while on the job at the station, she received a phone call. 

“It was Peter Herschend, owner of Silver Dollar City,” Rau said. “He wanted me to know that the gentleman [Don Richardson] who named Silver Dollar City, based on a promotional idea to give back real silver dollars as change, creating ‘word-of-mouth’ advertising, was retiring.

“Pete just thought I might want to know that he believed the person who opted to fill the job of publicist (the only one the park ever had) will probably stay for a long time, given it’s such a fun way to spend one’s career. 

“I thought about it and almost didn’t do it.” 

That was over three decades ago. 

Her enthusiasm exudes as she talks about her job, the culture working there and how everyone cares for each other. She loves providing fun, family entertainment. 

She is most proud of helping preserve, protect and promote the history of SDC. She has done that by helping to preserve visual files, artifacts and anecdotes. 

“One of my favorite things to do is tour someone throughout the park and tell them ‘did you knows’  and take them behind the scenes, the nooks and crannies that captivate the imagination, leading people to wonder how it all came together over the last seven decades, starting with a hole in the ground and a Chicago family who thought they could deliver entertainment.”

SDC has continued to stoke Rau’s desire of curiousity. 

When an employee reaches the 25-year marker of employment at SDC, they get a sign somewhere in the park. 

Rau’s pretty much tells her story. It reads: “Extraordinary! Sensational! Added Attraction! See Mistress of Oratory Arts Lisa Rau demonstrating 89 astonishing feats of linguistic calibration. Appearing one day only at the Ladies Auxiliary: She’s amazing, she’s entertaining, she’s Lisa.”

—Pam Sherborne

This article appears in the  APRIL 2022 issue of Amusement Today.
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