Officials in Story City are asking for help from the public as they struggle to find volunteers for the community's antique carousel.
“In the last five to seven years we've seen a dramatic drop in the number of volunteers,” said Abby Huff, executive director of the Greater Chamber Connection, which owns and operates the ride.
“There were many people in the older generation who volunteered, and the younger generations haven't gotten as involved yet,” Huff said. “That could be one of the reasons for the decline in numbers. That and people may have more activities they and their kids are involved with.
“We've racked our brains to figure it out, but at this point, we are saying, 'Hey! This is something we really need.'”
The carousel has four paid part-time positions, with each of those employees working between six and 20 hours per week.
“We'd like at least 50 percent of the shifts each week to be filled by volunteers,” Huff said.
Huff said there had been a good response from the community following a letter to the editor she had published in the Story City Herald on June 28.
“We've had seven or eight people sign up since then, but we are still very much in need of help,” she said.
Without the proper volunteer support, the cost to ride the carousel might have to be increased from its current rate of $1 per ride.
“Or we might not be able to be open every day,” Huff said. “We could have to go from seven days a week to four or five.”
Volunteer Becky Senti said it would be a shame if the carousel wasn't open every day during the summer. She and her husband Sam have been volunteers most Wednesday nights since it opened in North Park.
“We think the carousel is a really special thing for a lot of reasons,” she said. “It's old. We have it here in Story City and it's in such good condition and runs so well. And it's so much fun to watch the kids' faces.”
People are often beckoned into Story City by the carousel's sign on Interstate 35. “And it would be sad for people to drive in off the interstate to find that we're not open,” Senti said.
On Friday, the Sickmann family from Cloquet, Minn., were drawn in by that interstate sign. They were ready to stop for lunch and thought it would also be fun for their kids, Allison, 13, Logan, 11, and Parker, 9, to enjoy a carousel ride.
When the Sickmanns arrived, the carousel was being operated by part-time employee, Julia Humphrey, and two teenaged volunteers, Gilbert High School sophomores, Jillian Leiding and Hannah Siebens.
Leiding and Siebens were working their second day as volunteers at the carousel, selling tickets, making popcorn and selling novelties such as T-shirts and Norse Viking hats.
“I have always loved the carousel,” said Leiding. “And volunteering here earns us Silver Chord hours at our school — so it's a win-win.”
For Siebens it's a bit of a dream come true. “I've always wanted to sit in the ticket box,” she said as she sat behind the screen in the little red booth.
Although the person operating the actual carousel must be at least 18 years old, Humphrey emphasized that it is not a difficult thing.
“It's really just a matter of pushing a button to start it up, and it stops on its own,” she said.
Humphrey pointed out that at least twice in the past, local residents have rallied together for the benefit of the carousel, which was built in 1913 in New York. Story City's purchase of the amusement ride in 1938 was due in large part to the public's excitement about it.
“It was a fair carousel that could be taken apart and transported from place to place,” Humphrey said. “The man who owned it was getting on in years and offered to sell it to Story City for $1,200.”
That was a high price in the late-1930s; Story City made a $200 down payment and set up for its first day of carousel business on July 4.
“The carousel was open from 7 a.m. until midnight that Fourth of July, and tickets cost 10 cents apiece,” Humphrey said. “And in just that one day, they raised more than $900.”
For many years, the carousel was located in downtown Story City, in the area that is now the parking lot for Dollar General. Time and the elements caused damage to the outdoor amusement, however, and it was put into storage in 1976.
In 1980, a group of locals decided to restore the carousel and locate it in a building in North Park. The work took almost two years and cost approximately $140,000.
Now, it's not money the carousel needs as much as it needs volunteers.
“Let's rally around this carousel like this town did 35 years ago and keep the tradition alive,” Huff said.