83-year-old rides Okoboji roller coaster every summer since she was 10

Local News

OKOBOJI, Iowa (KCAU) – “I’ve been here every summer of my life. When it all started it would have been at about 1947.”

Mary Jo McNamara has been riding The Legend Roller Coaster at Arnolds Park every summer for the past 73 years.

“Our home was not too far from here at a place called Sunset Beach, and I was 10. And of course I’d always come to the park and ride the little cars and the carousel. But, I always wanted to ride the roller coaster.”

She was promised that when she turned 10, she’d finally be able to ride the coaster.

“That’s what I wanted most of all as a little girl was to ride that coaster, and once I did, I was hooked and I wanted to ride it all the time.”

“I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m always excited. There’s never a time I’m getting ready to ride this coaster that I don’t feel [excited.]”

Mary Jo said the coaster is now a family tradition. Each grandchild fights about who will ride the coaster with grandma.

“From the time they’re old enough until they can reach that line and they’re tall enough, they go on. Their first ride is with their grandma.”

And when they can’t, her husband, Jack McNamara, is right by her side.

“If there’s nobody else to ride with me, he’ll always step up and do it,” Mary Jo said.

“I’m a stand up guy. And a sit down guy,” Jack McNamara added.

Mary Jo has two more years until she reaches her goal of riding the coaster for 75 years in a row.

“Now that I’m getting so close, I’m thinking 90. As long as I’m okay, as long as I can walk up there and don’t have to be wheeled up there, I think I can get on that roller coaster. I just have a passion for roller coasters,” she said.

“I can’t see you riding this when you’re 90,” Jack said.

“Well, it’s only 7 more years,” Mary Jo replied.

She said it’s not a summer without riding The Legend.

“It’s strange for an 83-year-old woman for this to be one of the passions of her life, because I’ve obviously had a very long and interesting life. But, this is just special. Life without riding a roller coaster every summer is going to be a very sad life for me, indeed. Really. I hope it never happens. I hope I can just keep going and going.”

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