They work underground, processing thousands of tons of trash. They get there in the early morning hours, before the Mall opens, to prep the park and inspect the rides. They check the weather, estimate the crowds, and add last-minute staff to control the lines. There are hundreds of people working behind the scenes to make sure guests have the best experience possible. Here are a few of those faces.
Jill Weglarz, Interior Landscaping Supervisor
Years at MOA: 18
Job description: Supervising seven gardeners, who take care of 22,000 square feet of planters in Nickelodeon Universe® and throughout the Mall, which hold a total of 30,000 live plants. She commutes 110 miles each day, arriving from Le Sueur at 5 a.m. to pretty the park before guests start arriving. She and her team do things like hard-spray the trees, prune, plant new flowers, and add soil to the flowerbeds.
Favorite aspect of the job: “It’s a working environment that’s playful. Sometimes we forget we’re at work. We get excited when something blooms, and we share it with the team.”
Bloom report: “We have a Bird of Paradise; we got excited when that went into bloom. The Clivia likes to bloom whenever it wants. The Jasmines kind of went dormant for a while, and now they’re blooming again.”
Surprising fact: The Mall’s landscaping is designed to complement the rides. Weglarz points out plants next to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Shell Shock ride whose giant leaves look like turtle shells, and the spiky yellow and orange flowers in front of SpongeBob’s pineapple-shaped bouncy house.
In her words: “People don’t realize all that goes into getting the park ready before the Mall opens,” she says. “We finish our work and have everything cleaned up and put away before they get here.”
Lenny Werner, Park Maintenance Supervisor
Years at MOA: 25
Job description: Overseeing 21 maintenance workers to ensure that all the rides in Nickelodeon Universe are in safe working condition seven days a week. It takes Werner and his team four hours each morning to get through their inspection checklists before the park opens to the public. They also diagnose and repair rides.
Fondest memory: August 11, 1992. “Opening Day was an exciting time. To be a part of something new: an indoor amusement park. Everything I read said this place was going to fail, but I’m still here.”
Motto: “I always say that you make sure you do the job right because your own family could be on [the ride]. Safety is our number one priority. Sometimes we’ve had to delay opening to take care of something. People might get mad, but…ff it isn’t safe, we aren’t going to open it. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Surprising fact: “We’re only closed one day a year, so these rides get more use than rides at other amusement parks get in seven years. That means we have to replace parts more often, and parts are expensive. We’re about to order just three parts, and it will cost $90,000.”
Favorite Ride: The Fairly Odd Coaster
Natasha Betts, Attractions Park Manager
Years at MOA: 13.5
Job description: Overseeing the operation of rides in Nickelodeon Universe. Betts supervises approximately 200 people, including 20 full-time ride operators, four floor supervisors, 15 team leads, and several seasonal employees. “Although I oversee rides, as a manager I need to see the park as a whole, how the park looks from the guests’ perspective. So I’m looking at stores, benches, food, making sure nothing is out of place.”
Surprising fact: Betts also helps predict ridership for the upcoming year based on many variables, from school vacation calendars to the weather. The average number of rides in a day is 25,000-30,000, but it can range from as low as 3,500 to as high as 50,000. “Ridership is based on history, based on knowledge. It really drives a lot of what we do, like parking team plans, marketing, you name it. We work hard to scientifically predict ridership, but sometimes there’s the unpredictable, like when it rains and people who were going to go to [outside] come here instead. A lot is also based on feeling. I can drive up to the Mall on a day and just feel that it’ll be busy. If I’m driving here and there’s not a lot of traffic, that might mean people are taking the day off.”
Favorite aspect of the job: “That every day is different and new. It’s never the same day twice. That’s just the nature of the business. Something is always happening here.”
Russell Helser, III, Environmental Services/Warehouse Manager
Years at MOA: 22
Job description: Overseeing the Mall’s loading dock, including shipping and receiving for Nickelodeon Universe and MOA’s gift and food stores. Helser also processes the Mall’s mail, and oversees storage and warehousing for its administrative offices. He manages waste and recycling for the common areas and food courts, processing upwards of 3,500 tons of trash annually!
A typical day: “I’ll be at my computer doing budgets and reports, but preferably I’m out and about making sure things are running how they should be. Walking around the Mall, checking trash and recycling, the back stairwells, anything behind the scenes.”
Surprising fact: Within the Mall’s warehouse is an expansive walk-in cooler and freezer, which now hold mostly files and supplies alongside corn dogs, cheese curds, and pizza toppings. “Back in the Camp Snoopy days, the park had an entire food court and four full-service restaurants. That’s why the cooler is so big. Right now we have files in the freezer because we’re short on space. I did do some research [beforehand] to make sure they would hold up in the cold temperatures.”
Favorite aspect of the job: “Having a boss that trusts me, and getting to run a department. I also met my wife here. We met in 2007 and got married in 2014. She’s a special operations captain for Security.”
Photo credit: Caitlin Abrams