CLEVELAND — When Russell Wintner walks around Memphis Kiddie Park, he takes a walk down memory lane.
"It's unique. You don't find this really anywhere. I mean, we are one of five [kiddie parks] left in the country," he said of his longtime family business. "It's one of the few places you can come and make the same memories with your offspring that you had yourself. And that seems to be really important to people."
Russ says, the park has been like a sibling his entire life. Started by his parents Stuart and Lanny seventy years ago last month, he was quite literally born into the family business.
"My dad finished the merry-go-round... and then went to the hospital until I was born at roughly 3 o'clock in the morning and my father sold his first ticket that afternoon."
And while Russ, and his own sons grew up with the park, the experience you get across these 5.5 acres on Memphis Avenue in Brooklyn, has touched countless Northeast Ohio families.
"We've kept everything looking the same. You walk in here, it's like walking into 1952," Russ said. "When people come, you know, they came as kids, then they brought their children, now they're bringing the grandchildren, they're all sharing the exact same experience."
As Russ tells it, kiddie parks were once a very popular pastime of mid-century America, with the Cleveland area alone home to five different venues. Today, Memphis Kiddie Park is the only one still standing in Northeast Ohio - and through the years, it has remained true to its roots.
"They're all classics," he says of the park's popular rides. "We kept all of the rides of the 1950s and we've, you know, made some safety improvements over the years, but they're basically the same ride....We've got a merry-go-round with 36 horses....our train ride is very popular and we have a locomotive with two passenger cars and it goes round the entire park. The Ferris wheel is from a company that hasn't existed for a very long time."
Memphis Kiddie Park’s most famous ride, The Little Dipper, has become a local icon, and holds a very special distinction.
"We're very proud of this roller coaster because it's been designated the oldest steel coaster continuously operating in North America," Russ said. "We have a plaque over there from the American Coaster Enthusiasts Group and it's our most popular ride."
Russ says families are often eager to share their memories with him when visiting the park - he was even gifted a collage showing photos of three generations from the same family all on the same ride.
"People come up to me...and they say thank you. I say thank you for what? I should be thanking you for coming," he said. "And they [say], No, you don't understand. You're making possible these incredible memories. Thank you so much."
Russ, who spent most of his career traveling between Cleveland and California for the film industry, says he's now happy to spend his retirement in a more hands-on role at the park. And the next generation of the Wintner family is keeping the tradition alive - one of Russ' two sons, Scott, manages their marketing and spends several weeks each summer helping out.
"When I'm here, I feel very much attached to my dad, [which is], for me, a really good feeling," Russ said. "And hopefully my son Scott will feel the same way and want to keep it running. I don't know if it'll go another seventy years, but it would be nice."
Memphis Kiddie Park is located at: 10340 Memphis Ave, Cleveland, OH 44144 - you can find more information about visiting here.