by Larry Austin
It was altogether fitting that Martin DiPietro needed a microphone and speaker for his comments at Saturday's birthday party marking the founding of Fantasy Island in 1961. Without an amplifier, no one would have heard the owner of the amusement park on Grand Island Boulevard above the screams and laughs of patrons on his midway.
DiPietro was introduced as "the man who has kept Fantasy Island alive." In the 18 years he's owned Martin's Fantasy Island, he said, "the goal has been quite simple: try and make it better every year. And I hope we've done that, but what I have enjoyed over these years is that challenge."
He said he has enjoyed looking back to see how far the business has come from "those first days when the future of this park was in question."
"What we have brought to this park and this community is a safe, affordable, exciting, family-friendly place where families can spend the day, not a fortune," DiPietro said.
Town Supervisor Peter McMahon remembered when Fantasy Island opened in 1961. He and Jack Hugill, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce at the time, cut the ceremonial ribbon when they were front-seat passengers on the first ride of the Silver Comet rollercoaster. He said the park has entertained countless people from the world over during its five decades.
"In the 50 years since they opened, they've brought millions and millions of visitors to Grand Island, some of whom patronized our businesses," McMahon said. "They've had probably 1,000 kids, people from Grand Island, who've worked here in the summertime, providing jobs for the residents."
"They're a great corporate citizen."
Eric Fiebelkorn, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, called Martin's Fantasy Island "one of the most recognizable businesses we have here" and the biggest single draw to the Island. Any business open 50 years is "a big achievement and we're very happy for him," he added.
Fiebelkorn also praised DiPietro for carrying the cost of the Independence Day fireworks display for many years.
"People don't know he's borne a lot of that cost himself," Fiebelkorn said. "A lot of people assume that is public money. That's the kind of thing that they do for the community that draws people here."