Teenage Dream: A Journey from Lifeguard to Leadership

Last Updated:May 21, 2024
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Teenage Dream: A Journey from Lifeguard to Leadership Teenage Dream: A Journey from Lifeguard to Leadership
Heart & Soul

When Jon Williams was a lifeguard at White Water in high school, he never imagined the wet and wild journey the job would take him. His path to becoming the park’s General Manager had more twists and turns than the water slides he worked on. Back then, though, he was just a teenager having fun.

Growing up in what he calls “a more simple” time, there were no cell phones or social media to celebrate the good times working at the water park. “We were just busy getting by and making memories,” he smiles. “It was great to live in the moment when not everything was filmed. Actually, nothing was filmed!”

It was during those good old days when Jon’s summer job shaped into something more thanks to his mentor, Jackie Smith, who was GM at the time.

“She encouraged me to try different areas of the park,” he recalls. “I got into the maintenance side because that was the only way to work full-time here. She let me forge my path.”

By 2002, Jon was full-time at White Water overseeing maintenance while he also juggled a load of college courses at Missouri State University.

“The great thing about that was I knew what type of classes I needed to be successful in my job because I was already in my career,” he recalls. “My Commercial Recreation degree allowed me to add tools to the toolbox, including marketing and construction management.”

He’d take that skillset to Silver Dollar City in 2014 when the park needed a Maintenance and Construction director.

“I loved those guys and how hard they work,” he smiles. “When I moved over to Silver Dollar City, I quickly saw that the company’s foundation is the same no matter which property you work for. Whether you’re building Christmas floats or working on rides, you’re part of a culture where people want to stay. We’re allowed to move around to find our best fit."

The best fit for Jon in 2021 was going back to his White Water roots, this time as General Manager. With 250 seasonal employees and about six year-round folks, this time of year is especially busy at White Water as the team prepares to open for its 44th season on May 25. They’ve spent the past three months fixing, painting and perfecting the park to make sure it's ready for families.

“Opening day is always so exciting as watch our guests come in,” he smiles. “We’re all so proud of how well the park is cared for. Families are safe here and can relax and just have fun!”

Now in his 28th season with Herschend Enterprises, Jon smiles as he talks about a certain “guest” who strolls the water park grounds about once a week —company founder Jack Herschend. Jack, along with his brother Pete, had the vision to turn a former airport into an oasis in 1979.

“They were trailblazers when they opened White Water. No one was building water parks at the time and they really brought that vision to life. We work for people who don’t have to work but they do because they want the product to do well. They act out and live the mission of the company. It’s easy to get behind that.”

About White Water:

A tropical paradise awaits at Silver Dollar City’s White Water as the largest water park in the Ozarks opens on Saturday, May 25 for the 2024 season. With over 13 acres of rides, slides and tasty beachside delights, White Water celebrates 44 seasons of creating memories worth repeating under the sun — or shaded cabana — with summer-long adventures bringing families closer together. Plus, moonlit dive-in movies return with a bigger, brighter and bolder LED screen.

Thrilling slides span the north side of White Water, including the seven-and-a-half-story Kalani Towers Drop Slides, the tallest pair of waterslides in the region, with speeds of over 40 mph. Next door, KaPau Plummet (that’s kuh-pow!) aims to leave riders breathless with a freefall experience courtesy of the slide’s 70-degree, trapdoor start — it’s 1, 2, 3… Ka-Pau! Nestled at the top of the park, Ohana Falls’ rafts swing side-to-side down a massive halfpipe, accommodating an entire family of 4.

Relaxation is key on the south side of this tropical paradise where the Aloha River drifts tubers and swimmers alike more than 800 feet along a tranquil float, meandering past exotic fauna, lush greenery and plenty of shade. And, there might be a few fountains along the way for the unsuspecting lounger! Peacefulness and playfulness fuse at both Coconut Cove and Splashaway Cay, where plenty of slides, water blasters, bubbling fountains and tipping buckets entertain the littlest ones in the family under the watchful eyes of trained lifeguards, while parents can take a breather and watch from a safe but relaxing distance.

While swimming and splashing works up an appetite, guests of White Water won’t go hungry. From tacos and pizza to fresh hand-cut fries and hand-breaded chicken tenders, extra care is taken by the water park to offer something for everyone in the family, along with iced coffees, frappes, smoothies, shakes and all-new mini donuts.

For a more private retreat, White Water’s various reserved seating options and Blue Lizard cabanas provide plenty of opportunities to unwind, from lounge seating at the most popular spaces in the park, all the way to private premium cabanas with meal delivery service, satellite television and private lockers. Offered every day, guests are urged to make reservations well before their visit.

Hours extended into the moonlight beginning July 12 during Night Water, with popular, family-friendly movies showing every night during the event. That’s 9 total movies across each Night Water date at Surf’s Up Wave Pool under the Ozark Mountains moonlight, plus slides into the night.

The tropical oasis White Water opens for the summer on May 25, open every day through August 13, along with special weekend hours beginning August 16 through Labor Day. Info on single-day and multi-day tickets to White Water are available at silverdollarcity.com Unlimited visits all summer long are included with a Silver Dollar City Diamond Pass, while a special discount for educators is available June 2-30.

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Meet Brandei Clifton

As Public Relations Manager for the Silver Dollar City Company, she is eager to tap into her journalism background to hunt down “heart tugs” to write about—those stories that celebrate…

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