SACO — The founder and patriarch of Funtown/Splashtown USA, the largest water and amusement park in northern New England, has died at the age of 80.

Kenneth Cormier died at a hospital in Celebration, Fla., after a brief illness, the park reported Tuesday. Funeral arrangements have not been completed yet.

Cormier, an Army veteran, first bought the plot of land on now-busy Route 1 in Saco more than 50 years ago. The first business on the site was a drive-in. His brother-in-law, Andre Dallaire, operated a miniature golf course next door. The two merged their properties in 1967 and Funtown was born.

Cormier bought out his partner 11 years later, but when Dallaire created Cascade Water Park, the two merged again in 1996 to create Funtown/Splashtown USA.

Mark Johnston, a local business owner and longtime mayor of Saco, said Cormier built his business from scratch into one of the city’s largest seasonal employers and one of its top 10 taxpayers. The park has expanded numerous times over the years and averages about a half-million visitors every summer.

“He was an amazing man, a man with a vision,” Johnston said. “He’s probably the biggest innovator in finding ways for communities in southern Maine to put themselves on the map.”

The park has been in Cormier’s family since its inception, and all but one of his children now have a hand in running the company. Ed Hodgdon, a spokesman for Funtown/Splashtown USA, said the family did not plan to make any public comments at this time.

Cormier is survived by his wife of 50 years, Violet.

At a Maine Family Business Awards dinner in 2010, Cormier described his business as a legacy for his family.

“I wouldn’t do this for myself,” he said. “Eventually, they’re going to own it when we pass. Family is important. Our board is all family. We have very passionate meetings because everyone is very passionate about what they do.”

Al Sicard, president of a local marketing firm, handled Funtown’s television accounts in the late 1980s and early 1990s and got to know Cormier well.

“We take it for granted, but when he built that park, there was nothing there, not even a McDonald’s,” Sicard said.

Craig Pendleton, director of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce, grew up in Saco and went to school with Cormier’s son, Kevin.

“We played football and Ken had a really good video camera and would record all the games,” Pendleton said. “This was prior to the era of ‘man caves,’ but Ken had one. We would all go over there and watch the tapes of those games.”

Pendleton said Cormier was successful and well-to-do, but always remained community-minded. When the park recently embarked on a $3 million expansion, all of the contractors hired by the company were local. That’s the kind of man he was, Pendleton said.

The economic impact of Funtown/Splashtown USA is immeasurable, Pendleton said, if for no other reason than the park has employed teenagers across multiple generations.

Indeed, Sicard said both his kids worked at the park.

“It’s like a Saco rite of passage,” he said. “He taught them a lot and treated them well. What more can you ask for?”
 

 

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:
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Twitter: @PPHEricRussell