Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Walter Knott, The Pioneer Who Planted Knott's Berry Farm

Walter Knott rode spirit to theme-park heights.

“Success comes as you have confidence in yourself,” he said. “Self-confidence is built by succeeding, even if the success is small. It is the believing that makes it possible. No man succeeds without faith.”

With that faith came boysenberries, roller coasters and a cowboy theme park called Knott’s Berry Farm.

The amusement spot in Buena Park, Calif., just north of Disneyland, boasts 5 million visitors a year, ranking among the top funfair draws in America.

The 160-acre plot — from which its Orange County city thrives with motels and restaurants — originated with a 1920 germination from Walter Knott (1889-1981).

“Walter Knott possessed the persistence that very few people have ever had,” said Jay Jennings, author of “Knott’s Berry Farm: The Early Years,” “He believed that anything was possible if you tried hard enough. That’s why he stayed in the fields and kept farming despite his many early failures in growing vegetables and fruit.

“Knott loved agriculture, turning weed patches into crop-yielding gardens. He learned at an early age (9) how to contribute to the family’s income by selling produce from his crops to railroaders who lived near the Southern Pacific track. Knott’s grandmother Rosamond Dougherty was another big influence. She moved in with his brother, mother and himself and shared exciting stories about her adventures in the Old West, which later motivated Knott to build his Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm.”

The man simply had a “unique combination of having clear goals in mind along with an almost obsessive work ethic,” said Christopher Merritt, co-author of “Knott’s Preserved.” “Even in the face of adversity (i.e., attempting to grow grapes in the Mojave Desert prior to cultivating his farm in Buena Park), he stuck to his overall plan and simply did not give up, when others would have more quickly come to their senses and moved on to other, less daunting prospects.”

Star Power

John Wayne, who had a Knott’s Berry Farm theater named for him, called Knott “a true image of American capitalism. He takes pride in the efforts of his organization and the quality of his product. … I delight in calling him a friend.”

Another actor, Ronald Reagan, took time out from his California governor duties in 1968 to laud Knott as “one of America’s great patriots, one who has successfully climbed to the very top rung of the ladder of success … yet one who has always been careful to see that he left each rung of that ladder in good repair so those who followed would have less trouble in climbing life’s ladder than he had.”

Walter started his rise not far from Buena Park — in San Bernardino, born to Elgin and Virginia Knott.

“Walter Knott overcame many hurdles and hardships,” said Jennings. “First was the death of his father at age 6, which meant that he and his mother couldn’t keep their family farm due to financial hardships. When Knott was a sophomore in high school, the small bit of farmland he and his cousin owned in Coachella Valley was destroyed by a November freeze. Knott moved back to Pomona and worked in the fields all week, then jumped on a train to drop produce off and take orders at various cities on the line. It was grueling but profitable.”

Walter was 21 when he married Cordelia, his bride of six decades and the mother of their four children.

With their Pomona house, life looked nice and easy. Only, Knott wanted a farm, even in the rough California desert. “Think of it: 160 acres of land to call our own if we live on it for three years!”
Cordelia reacted with tears, foreseeing “coyotes, rattlesnakes, no inside plumbing, no running water, not even a house but a humble adobe dwelling,” wrote the biographer Helen Kooiman. “Sand. Hardship. ‘Walter, you can’t mean it!’ ”

He did. “Those desert years were some of the best years of our life. … The hardships we endured made us tough,” said Walter. “After what we went through there, nothing could faze us.”

Finding Traction

By 1920, Walter was moving back to the Los Angeles area — and found his gold mine: Buena Park. He took up his cousin Jim Preston’s offer to join a farming partnership.

“His farming dream was still alive, and Knott leased 20 acres of land along Grand Avenue from William Coughran, which Knott later bought outright,” said Jennings. “This was the land that Knott’s Berry Farm would later be built on.”

Knott made money selling berries at a roadside stand that grew into a building called Knott’s Berry Place in 1928.

Then came Walter’s eureka moment. Discovering Anaheim park chief Rudolph Boysen’s mix of blackberry, loganberry and red raspberry, Knott started growing the boysenberry in 1933.

Depression? What Depression? Knott suddenly had a hot seller in boysenberry pie and jam. With Cordelia weighing in with her chicken specialty, their restaurant boomed.

“Few people who went down the road from Buena Park to the sea could resist the temptation to stop at the Berry Farm, either for a chicken dinner or for the berries,” wrote Norman Nygaard in “Walter Knott: 20th Century Pioneer.”

By 1937, wrote  Kooiman, “waiting lines were so long, he couldn’t see the end.”

This was after a banker turned him down for a loan with a dismissive “highway restaurants fail when they try to expand,” noted Jennings.

Knott found the means, and payroll was about to rocket — from 25 in 1936 to 350 in 1947 to 2,000 in 1972 to 10,000 now.

“My greatest satisfaction in life,” said Knott, “is knowing that some widow, some young person or other human being can come here and find an honest job and win the biggest prize life has to offer — self-respect.”

Those early employees felt Walter’s tenet of goodwill toward customers: “This is more valuable than what we actually sell here on the farm. Goodwill doesn’t develop simply. It develops only through years of integrity, fair dealing and honest toil. We’ve worked hard to develop this, and we want you to help us maintain it.”

Riding High

With the food good, Knott wanted the farm’s entertainment to be even better. So he added amusement to the mix in 1940, sparking Knott’s Berry Place & Ghost Town with a Western theme. In the coming years he littered it with Calico Square, Calico Saloon, Calico Mine Ride and the bandit-thrilling Calico Train, taking the name from a town he had turned into a tourist attraction in San Bernardino County between Buena Park and Las Vegas.

“Walter Knott is credited with many crucial innovations that paved the way for his many successes,” said Jennings. “The first was cutting out the middleman so he could keep more profits from his farming and selling directly to grocers.

Then came the boysenberry, incorporated into punch, jams, jellies and pies at Knott’s Berry Farm for over 80 years.

Yet another successful business venture came from the Chicken Dinner Restaurant that has been serving their world famous chicken for 80 years as well. To accommodate the long lines, Knott built Ghost Town in 1940.

Word of mouth traveled across the country, and within a few years, Knott’s Berry Place (which became Farm in 1947) was one of the most successful amusement parks in the United States and still is to this day.”

Nowadays, Knott’s Berry Farm spotlights six live shows, 18 family rides and 10 roller coasters.
Also in the complex is a rendition of Independence Hall, replete with a 2,000-pound bell, dedicated on July 4, 1966.

Cheers rang in the coming years, especially from Reagan: “He’s been a participant in every worthwhile cause that you can imagine. He has never said no to anything charitable or to anything in the community. We need a couple hundred million more citizens like Walter Knott.”

Reagan became president in 1981, the year Knott died at age 91. His descendants sold Knott’s Berry Farm to Cedar Fair Entertainment for about $250 million in 1997. The parent company, based in Ohio, has seen its stock rocket 900% since 2009, with record net revenue of $1.24 billion in 2015, although it doesn’t publicly break out individual park sales among its 11 amusement sites.

“Walter Knott is indeed an inspirational figure,” said Jennings, “in the sense that he started with very little and through sheer will power and positive thinking (failure was not in his vocabulary) found the farmlands that he needed to grow his fruits and vegetables and then expanded and bought more land as the years progressed and then capitalized on what customers wanted: good food, good preserves and good old fashioned Old West entertainment, which really couldn’t be found anywhere else, at least until Disneyland opened in 1955.

“Walter Knott started as a simple farmer and eventually became the owner of one of the world’s most popular and successful amusement parks. Talk about inspirational.”

Photos Courtesy Jay Jennings

Bucky Fox is an editor and author in Southern California.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jesse Lee Peterson Races To The Fore With Opinions

Jesse Lee Peterson is hardly part of the silent majority.

Because nothing about him silent.

The radio, TV and book voice roars with points that turn on some, turn off others in America.

“Racism is an illusion,” says Peterson. “It doesn’t exploit people. The anger that black people have starts in the home, not from white people. Racism isn’t holding black people back. The problem is that black leaders keep them in a state of anger.”

He tries to take that leadership from his conservative side:

·              As a frequent guest on Sean Hannity’s hit Fox News Channel show.

·              With “The Jesse Lee Peterson Radio Show” that airs throughout the South and online.

·              Through his Los Angeles-based, family-advice organization, BOND, or the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny.

·              As an ordained minister who makes his case on the speaking circuit.

·              Via three books, the latest of which is “The Antidote: Healing America From the Poison of Hate, Blame and Victimhood.”

Peterson, loud and clear in his weekly WorldNetDaily column, is just as outspoken on the pages of “The Antodote”:

·              “Blacks in the United States are the freest and wealthiest group of blacks anywhere. If black America were a country, it would be the 16th wealthiest nation in the world.

·      “As many as half a million black babies are killed in the womb each year — roughly three times the rate of white babies. . . . Some black lives apparently don’t matter at all.”

·  “For political reasons, black leaders supported these other minorities (Hispanics, Muslims), even if it meant selling out black citizens to do so. This has never been more obvious than in the support of black political leaders for illegal immigration. . . . They look at people sneaking into the country, illegally taking jobs that poor blacks and whites might have otherwise had, and see only future Democratic votes.”

Andrew Klavan, a crime novelist out of Southern California who has covered Peterson, lauds the reverend: “Jesse talks directly out of his life, out of his own struggles with anger, his own search for forgiveness, and out of his Bible reading - and with no regard whatsoever for the current racial narrative. Where we've all been so brainwashed into thinking of a black man's struggles as intimately connected to his blackness, Jesse refuses to do down that rabbit hole. He's a man. His experience is a man's experience. His wisdom is a man's wisdom. His answers are human answers. In this race-corrupted day and age, that makes everything he says riveting and original. 

“The guy is unbelievably authentic. It's not that he's politically incorrect. It's that the category of political correctness doesn't seem to exist in his mind. As far as I can tell, he does not give Damn One about what he's supposed to think or say. He says what he means, what he knows. The minute he starts talking, his absolute fearlessness is the first the thing you notice about him. It's a God Thing, I think. He's got the Bible to back him up. You don't like it, file your complaints with the Lord and good luck.”

Alabama Rise

Peterson started out 66 years ago on a plantation near Eufaula, Ala., with his grandmother and cousins. Their tiny house had no bath, shower or running water.

Making it tougher was an absent father. Then his mother and new husband moved with their children and left Jesse with Grandma.

Jesse’s father barely came by. Filling that void was Grandpa.

“Sometimes during the school year I would stay home to help with the plowing and the planting, the picking of cotton and the harvesting of crops,” Peterson wrote. “Now, if that is not an ‘authentic’ black experience, I am not sure I know what is.”

Peterson found his way to California and found a job transcribing on computers at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, but wanted more.

He searched for a business he could start without much money and found one: a janitor service. He dived into double duty, working morning to afternoon inputting at the hospital, then till midnight cleaning buildings.

In seven years, his company grew to seven full-time employees.

By 1990, he heard another calling. He sold the janitor service and had enough money to start BOND. “I was called by God to do this,” he says.

To strike out on his own, he had a hurdle to leap: fear.

“Because I was not raised by a father, I didn’t have a good example of how to start a business,” he said. “I also had to overcome anger. The offspring of anger is fear. When God took my anger away, He took my fear away. Now I was not afraid of giving it a good try. I didn’t have fear to hold me back.”

Having been ordained a minister by the state, Peterson started bolstering the group that today counsels 160 people at any one time, with a staff of 10 and an annual budget of $500,000, much of which comes from donations, plus his speaking fees and books.

The Peterson Principle

“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve never gotten one dime from the government,” he said. “I’ve worked hard.”

Especially with books. Before “The Antidote” came “From Rage to Responsibility” in 2000 and “Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America” in 2003. He was building a brand — black conservative with strong opinions that, he says, “opened so many possibilities.”

All the while, he gained traction on the TV shows of Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue, plus radio interviews and a newsletter — while keeping his BOND focus on “rebuild the family by building the man. It’s all about getting people to overcome anger, blame and victimhood. We teach people to judge based on character rather than color. We encourage men and women to get married, stay together and raise families. We teach people to be independent thinkers and to be self-sufficient so they’re not relying on the government for jobs or handouts. For those interested in starting a business, we provide resources and mentors to help them get started.”

As for Peterson’s own life, he’s never been married. He has a son from a relationship decades ago and now has several grandchildren.

That son, the name of which Peterson wants private for security reasons, is in his early 40s and lives in New York. Jesse relates how the young man gave him a joyous gift one day with a phone call: “He had overcome the anger in his life. I felt like the man wandering in the desert who finally found a spring. . . . I’m blessed that God returned my son to me.”

Hence Peterson’s advice to kids at BOND: 

“Overcome your anger from that feeling of lack of love. I show them that they have to forgive and do well in school. If they do that and network, they can make it.”

That networking helped Peterson make a national imprint. He met Hannity’s sister years before running into the TV and radio star. That led to a friendship with Hannity that regularly lands Peterson on the conservative personality’s Fox program.

One reason opinionated shows want Peterson is his refusal to pull punches. He swings hard amid an America boiling with Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago:

·              “White Americans have to overcome their fear of being called racist.”

·              “We have to arrest and punish the criminals.”

·              “People have to get back on their feet alone. Quite spoiling them. We need tough love.”

In His Corner


Cheers come from fellow conservative radio voice Dennis Prager: “There are many admirable traits that a good person may possess — honesty, integrity, compassion, among others — but there is one trait that very few people have. That trait is courage. . . . Jesse is fearless. Or to be more accurate, he does not allow fear to govern his behavior or speech. I have no idea whether or not he has fears. I only know that fear plays no role in his work. He answers to God and his conscience.”

Klavan is another journalist glad to have met Peterson: “As best I can remember, I was waiting to give a sales talk at Thomas Nelson publishers, and picked Jesse's first memoir off a shelf and paged through it. I was caught. I took the book home and read it and thought: I gotta talk to this guy. I wound up doing a profile on him for City Journal, and if you read it, you can almost hear me spluttering with awe at the guy's honesty. Since then, I've become a supporter and I hope he considers me a friend.”

Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California.