idlewild park’s storybook forest Employee spends decades portraying Old Woman in the Shoe, Mother Goose
By PATRICK VARINE
Once upon a time, “The Old Woman in the Shoe” was a young woman.
That was in 1968, when she began working at Idlewild Park’s Storybook Forest.
Next year, Eleanor Clark, 88, of Ligonier Township will mark a half-century in the park, much of it spent as one of its two most recognizable figures – she swaps roles between The Old Woman in the Shoe and Mother Goose.
“She is just phenomenal,” said Shirley Krinock of Latrobe, who began working in Storybook Forest four years ago. “Everybody loves her.”
Clark is in her element sitting under an umbrella on a cool September morning. She high-fives any child who is willing and asks everyone if they know her nursery-rhyme story, which she is happy to tell.
“I love it,” Clark said. “I love the kids. I love mingling with people.”
She began her career in the park as a cashier, then as a bookkeeper, with the goal of helping to put her son through college.
“I thought, ‘I’ll only work four years,’ and here we are 49 years later,” she said. “After he graduated, my daughter decided to get married, so I stayed on to help pay for that. Then my brother died, and we bought our family’s farm, so I stayed on to help pay for that.”
Clark and her husband paid off the farm in April of that year. By May, her husband had fallen ill. By December, he had died and Clark was the sole breadwinner for her family.
“Her husband died and she put all her kids through college,” Krinock said. “She’s just amazing.”
Over the years, Clark has seen children grow into teens, and into adults who then bring their kids to see her.
Idlewild & SoakZone assistant general manager Rick Spicuzza said hers is a common story in the park.
“Eleanor’s got the longest tenure, but it’s not unusual that we have people who’ve been here 30, 40 years,” Spicuzza said. “That’s the greatest thing about Idlewild.”
In addition to playing her roles, Spicuzza said Clark and several other women take time to spruce up Storybook Forest.
“They bring in plants and create little rock gardens you can see around,” Spicuzza said. “They sort of make Storybook Forest their own and help beautify the park.”
Clark said she isn’t sure if she’ll continue in her roles, but “if I get my 50 years in next year, I’m still coming back to do my flowers.”
Spicuzza said Clark is usually the first person to reapply each year to come back and play her role, and having her return year after year is part of what visitors love about the park.
“That’s part of the showmanship of Idlewild, and it helps the place really come alive,” he said.
Clark said meeting new people every day and putting a smile on children’s faces is part of what keeps her coming back.
“Otherwise I’d be at home by myself,” she said. “With the cats.”
Krinock said she marvels watching Clark in action.
“If I live to be that old, I hope I’m as good as she is,” Krinock said.