LUBBOCK, Texas — As David Dean strolled through the now desolate grounds of Joyland on Monday, the memories of summers past came flooding back.
His bright red Joyland polo read “General Manager,” but Dean is far more than that. For nearly 50 years, he and his wife have grown their family’s independent amusement park into a summer staple of the South Plains.
“I had some choices in life of which road to go down, but boy am I grateful I chose to do this,” he said. “I haven’t made a lot of money, but I’ve made the best memories ever… the best memories ever. You can’t put a price on that.”
For half a century, he has watched generations of families bring their kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids to his sprawling fixtures of fun. Some fans have told him years later that they met their spouses while braving his rides as children, and one couple even returned to get engaged inside the park.
“It’s that kind of thing that I want to remember,” Dean said. “I love creating smiles and making memories with people. My life has been blessed beyond words. You can’t beat it, no matter how much money you spend you can’t beat it. And I guess that’s what kept me going all these years.”
But now, as Dean turns 67 this year, the challenges of Joyland’s modern era have forced some “heartbreaking” decisions. The family announced Monday they will not reopen the park for a 51st season. Between the financial and emotional strains brought by regular vandalism, damaging floods, and the strains they still feel from COVID closures, the Dean family is trying to pass their dream into other hands.
The park has been on the market for multiple years, ever since the pandemic hit, but they have not yet found a buyer. Today they announced that if a buyer does not come along before Oct. 1, the park will be sold to the highest bidder at auction late next month.
“That is very sad. I don’t want to see it come to that. But I’m all-ears if you have another solution,” Dean said. “We came to the decision that we had had enough. And it was a heartbreaking decision.”
The park has always resided inside McKenzie Park, and the city still owns the land. So while Joyland fans don’t have to worry about a high-rise developer buying the land and bulldozing the landmark, Dean hopes an ambitious and fun-loving new owner will buy the park and continue its legacy.
“I would love to see someone come in here ready to go. Joyland has not reached all of our potential. I was already dreaming of rides, the next ride that I would add if it were up to me. and I know somebody else will dream the same way. First you have to dream before you can make the reality come true. But that’s another thing that really makes this business wonderful.”