A Most Memorable Person

by Jeffrey G. Harper, April 21, 2002

There have been many memorable people in my life.  They range from the obvious choices to the obscure.  There was my grandfather, a person I viewed as being my best friend.  There were friends in school, and former girlfriends.  There were coworkers and customers.  There was also a group of people wearing pink shirts with green lettering telling people to “Eat a Wolfcookie today.”  Out of the vast assortment of memorable people in my life, trying to choose one of them is rather like trying to select my favorite strand of hair.

There was one person, however, who had quite an unexpected and significant impact on my life.  That person was Dave Hensley, a manager in the Games department at Cedar Point amusement park.

I was a freshman at Michigan State University when I decided to apply for a summer job at Cedar Point.  I was a very shy and quiet person, yet, at the recommendation of a friend, I chose to apply for a position in the Games department.  That February, I interviewed with Dave.  Since I wanted the job, I put aside my shy nature for the interview, and was as outgoing as I knew how to be.

Apparently it worked.  I felt the interview went well, hence I figured I’d probably get a job working in the arcades or in one of the standard carnival-style games.  I felt such a position would be similar to being a voice in a chorus.  With my experience in concert and marching bands, I felt I could handle such a role in spite of my fear of public speaking.  There was only one position I felt I could not handle – The Guessing Game.  That position required standing all alone, speaking to thousands of people over a microphone.  I never dreamed Dave would assign me to that position.

However, when I arrived at the park in early June, Dave greeted me and told me he was assigning me to be a Guesser.  I silently looked at Dave, feeling stunned and very scared.  Dave must have sensed my fear as he said, “Not to worry.  I’m sure you’ll do fine.”  Although I was not scheduled to start working until the next day, Dave wanted me to throw on my uniform so he could take me out to a location that evening, thereby letting me get a taste for my new position.  Perhaps he felt I would pack up and leave if I had an entire night to think about the job I would be doing.

The location to which I was assigned was at the farthest point of the park.  Dave walked with me to the location.  Although surrounded by fun and exciting rides, I felt as though I was making a long walk to a final execution.  Along the way, Dave talked to me, trying to boost my confidence and help me to feel a bit more relaxed.  It didn’t quite work.  I was so nervous, I barely heard him.

After what seemed like the longest walk of my life, we reached the Guessing Game location in an area of the park called Frontiertown.  Dave wanted me to jump right on to the microphone.  He told me to just relax and be myself, then the microphone was thrust into my hand.

My mind was jumbled, but I knew I wanted to work at Cedar Point, and that desire meant I had to make myself heard.  I raised the microphone with a trembling hand, and shouted, “Ages, Weights and Birthdays!”  My voice boomed out of the public address system with such a volume that people on the midway and at the hat shop across the street jumped from the surprise.  With a smile on his face, Dave ran to the back room and turned down the speaker volume.  Although I was loud, I was quivering in terror.

After thirty minutes, Dave took the microphone and gave it to another Guesser.  He just wanted to give me a brief taste of what it was like to be a Weight Guesser.  He turned to me and said, “Well, at least you’re not afraid of the microphone!”  To that statement, I responded, “Are you kidding?  I was terrified!”  Dave then had to admit that he had never seen anyone shake as much as I had been.

Thanks to Dave’s trust and encouragement, I went on to become a very successful Weight Guesser, completely conquering my fear of public speaking.  His support in helping me overcome that fear improved my life in more ways than Dave could ever imagine.

During the first term of my senior year at Michigan State, I was really struggling with my courses.  I was thinking that, perhaps, I didn’t have what it took to be an electrical engineer.  The thought of possibly having to give up engineering was devastating to me.  I hit my lowest point following a very bad final exam.  I started the long walk back to my dormitory, trying to determine what I should do with my life.  Feeling in the deepest of despair, a sudden vision came into my mind.  That vision was my first moment on the microphone at Cedar Point.  I remembered the faith that Dave placed in a very scared freshman – a faith that ultimately resulted in four summers as a Weight Guesser.  I once again thought of his words, “Not to worry.  I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

With Dave’s help, I had overcome my greatest fear.  When at my lowest point, that victory reminded me that I can do anything I put my mind to doing.  The boost in confidence helped me to refocus.  My grades improved, leading to a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.  Of course, I didn’t just beat my fear of public speaking.  I destroyed that fear, as evidenced by the fact that I now enjoy speaking in public.  In that same spirit, I successfully forged ahead to receive my Master’s degree in electrical engineering, which has since resulted in having two patents to my name.

It still amazes me to think that, had Dave not driven me to overcome my fear of public speaking, I may never have received even one electrical engineering degree.