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The Beast's best gal

John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

Throughout the history of Kings Island, there have been many incredible individuals working hard behind the scenes to create its magic. However, one particular person’s light shines so bright that even 20 years after her passing, she is still revered and loved by those whose lives she touched. 

Ruth Marilyn Hemmert Voss didn’t begin working at Kings Island until 1975. Her tenure at the park came after a highly successful 29-year career in journalism. As a teen, she first started work as a copy clerk for the Cincinnati Times-Star in 1946.  That led to her earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Cincinnati in 1950.  She then spent 4 years in the Public Relations department at UC under the mentorship of its director, John DeCamp. Seeing a need, she simultaneously wrote a monthly newsletter that was distributed among 40 local Cincinnati area high schools called “Junior Prom.”  It was that periodical that led to Mrs. Voss being offered, and accepting the editorial helm of the Cincinnati’s Enquirer’s “Teen-Ager” magazine in 1965 – a position she would hold for 10 years.

The role at “Teen-Ager” magazine was a labor of love because Mrs. Voss’ passion was teens. Born an only child to immigrants who processed through Ellis Island, Mrs. Voss met and married her husband while attending the University of Cincinnati and the pair had 8 children of their own. As she took the helm of “Teen-Ager” she held special events to understand and mentor teens. She also served as a coach to aspiring journalists – just as John DeCamp had done for her – and at one point was overseeing 60 different youth contributors. However it was through her ongoing work with these teens, and with the magazine, that Mrs. Voss recognized a desperate need arising among troubled teenage girls.

Mrs. Voss made it her life’s primary focus to establish an agency to protect, educate and provide alternatives for homeless, abused, neglected and runaway young women. She worked tirelessly for 4 years to establish an organization called “New Life for Girls, Inc.” whose goal it was to build a halfway house for girls.  Mrs. Voss met with potential sponsors, donors, and wrote countless articles detailing the struggles that many young women were facing at the time, to drum support. It was through these editorials that Mrs. Voss caught the attention of the White House. One day while working in her office at the Enquirer, she was shocked when her phone rang and she was informed that President Nixon wanted to meet with her in the oval office.

On October 21, 1971, Mrs. Voss met with President Nixon for 23 minutes discussing the concerns and struggles of youth. Nixon, who was facing a crisis with so many young adults “tuning in and dropping out”, was decidedly focusing attention on involving teens in more of the country’s affairs. After learning of Mrs. Voss work, and reading her articles, Nixon wanted to offer assistance. It was at this meeting that Nixon asked her how much money she needed to open her home for girls.  Mrs. Voss asked for $30,000. The President obliged by increasing the donation to $50,000.  That single contribution allowed her an initial annual budget and the ability to build the “Schott Home” for girls. It was named after her former sorority sister Marge Schott, who became one of the group’s largest supporters.

President Nixon was so impressed by Mrs. Voss, the next day he spoke of her in his speech to the National Federation of Republican Women. In that speech he said: “… (a) lovely lady came to see me. She was from Cincinnati, Ohio--Mrs. Ruth Voss, the mother of eight children… Over the past few years, this woman, with eight children, has given over 50 percent of her time working on projects for teens. Her present project is to develop in Cincinnati a halfway house for girls who have gone to correctional institutions and then come back into productive life and, of course, need a chance, a chance to get some hope, a job, and so forth. As she described what she was doing, not in a boasting way because I was probing her to find out what she was doing, I realized what a perfectly remarkable woman she was. I also realized that across this country there are hundreds of thousands of women like her doing volunteer work, with young people, with older people, with those who have not had a chance, with those who were disabled.”

At the conclusion of the meeting with the President, he presented her with a solid gold pin featuring the Presidential logo – and eight gold bookmarks, one for each of her children. However, the greatest gift she received was the ongoing support her organization would now receive from the national attention he had given her heartfelt efforts. By 1973, her organization would open a second halfway home for girls. Later, when the Cincinnati Enquirer discontinued the production of the “Teen-Ager” magazine, Mrs. Voss made the difficult decision to retire from journalism. However, she didn’t “retire” for long. She soon took the position in public relations at Kings Island in 1975.

Her very first assignment at the park was to oversee and chaperone “Evel” Knievel on a six-city media tour to drum interest for his 14-bus jump at the park October 25, 1975. Frankly, Knievel was such a wild man – and his antics so unruly - that Mrs. Voss admitted later that she questioned “Why did I ever do this?” Nonetheless, she handled the situation like a pro, no doubt utilizing many of the skills she had learned dealing with unruly teenagers. Through her years at the park she would oversee a bevy of celebrities that often visited or presented at Kings Island. Dinah Shore, Dick Van Dyke, Jonathan Winters and many, many more came to know and enjoy her talents in public relations. However it was in 1979 that Mrs. Voss made her most unforgettable mark at Kings Island – something that will always remain synonymous with the park.

In winter 1978, Kings Island was nearing completion of its construction of a giant coaster in the southwest corner of Rivertown. However, no name had been chosen. Ideas had been tossed around among the park executives and marketing department, but none would stick. Ruth noticed the coaster’s construction in the thick, uneven, heavily wooded terrain was of such magnitude that when she would ply the construction team for progress updates, she received responses calling it “a monster” and “a beast of a project.” She heard this so often that a light bulb went off and Mrs. Voss approached the Kings Island executives proposing the coaster be called “The Beast.” Unanimously, they exclaimed “AMEN! THAT’S IT!”  And so, on February 6, 1979, thanks to Mrs. Voss, the new coaster’s name officially was released to the public as “The Beast.”

Mrs. Voss relationship with The Beast would grow to be a very special one. When the coaster premiered, it opened to a media fanfare of epic proportions. Press from around the world clamored for coverage of the biggest, baddest, longest, tallest and fastest wooden coaster of its time. Mrs. Voss was right there, chaperoning all those press and celebrities on their rides. In the meantime, the coaster was also receiving great attention from roller coaster lovers. It was at this time that a fledgling group calling themselves the “American Coaster Enthusiasts” was finding its footing as the first official club for coaster fanatics. Because she would routinely see these fans in the park, Mrs. Voss began a friendship with the group. That friendship soon blossomed into one of the first formal relationships “ACE” ever formed with a park. 

Mrs. Voss didn’t just love talking about and showing off The Beast; she also loved riding it! Each morning before the park opened, Mrs. Voss would head to the coaster to take a ride during one of its morning test laps. As her relationship with the coaster enthusiasts grew, Mrs. Voss began to invite members of the club to take the first morning rides with her, right before the ride would open to the general public. This became known as the “Beast walk-back” and became a daily tradition at Kings Island for many years exclusive only to ACE members. As the years passed, Mrs. Voss suffered from arthritis. She claimed that by taking a morning lap on The Beast with the group, it loosened her joints and made the day tolerable. She often said a ride on the coaster was equivalent to “a four-minute vibration of her entire body.” One of her favorite memories pertaining to the coaster involved tough guy Lou Ferrigno. The muscle-bound actor famous for playing “The Incredible Hulk” on television took a ride with Mrs. Voss while visiting the park. She said that when the ride ended, he had actually “turned green from the ride” and he said “I’ll never do that again!” Beast 1, Hulk 0.

However, her favorite memory of working at the park was the time she spent with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (the founders of Hannah-Barbera cartoons) who had come to the park for the grand opening of the newly expanded “Hannah- Barbera Land” in 1982. She led them on a multi-day tour of Cincinnati hospitals where they, along with several costumed HB characters, visited sick and terminal children. She called it “one of the highlights of my life.” No doubt fueled by a life-long commitment to youth, she delighted in the opportunities the park afforded her to bring pleasure to children in need. It was also during her time at the park that she continued to further her work with troubled teens. Why Mrs. Voss even took time to mentor those whose goal it was to work in public relations, including the park’s current area manager of digital marketing, Don Helbig.

Mrs. Voss retired from Kings Island in September, 1989. By then her arthritis had progressed to the point that future visits to the park be made riding in a wheelchair. However, against the advice of her doctor, she still insisted on taking rides on The Beast each time she returned to Kings Island. As a part of her retirement, and due to her love of The Beast, the park staff presented her with her very own authentic lead car from the ride. The car was a spare after the park downsized the coaster from four trains to three in the early 1980s. The wooden coaster maintenance team refurbished it and hand delivered it to her home so that she could still be near her beloved Beast each day. They called it “The Ruth Voss Special.” The park wanted her to know they’d always love her, and that she was a very special lady.

Ruth Voss passed away on November 15, 1998, leaving behind a legacy of compassion, caring and love. Her “New Life for Girls Inc.” grew beyond her wildest dreams to become “Lighthouse Youth and Family Services” which exists to this very day.  Their mission is “to advance the dignity and well-being of children, youth and families in need.” They provide “early childhood services; behavioral health and psychiatric services; home-based services to families; services to youth engaged with the juvenile justice system; community residential treatment facilities; foster care and adoption; independent living services; and opportunities through education.”

For her contributions to the park, and to the community, Kings Island formally inducted Mrs. Ruth Voss into their “Hall of Fame” in 2011. It’s the highest honor the park can bestow on an employee. She is to be commended for a life filled with love, compassion, empathy and hard work – all for the betterment of her community. To so many she became a savior, and mentor and to countless others, she became a dear friend.  

The next time you take a ride on The Beast, do so in her honor. No doubt, her indelible spirit will be riding right along with you.

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John Keeter

John M. Keeter first attended Kings Island 35 years ago when “The Bat” was originally taking flight.  The awe of that first visit and later rides on “The Beast” (Still his favorite Kings Island attraction) triggered his enduring love of the park.  A picture of a flooded Cincinnati’s Coney Island found in a grade school library book triggered his quest to learn all he could of Kings Island’s beginning.   An avid roller coaster enthusiast, he’s ridden over 400 different coasters.  He resides in Louisville, KY and maintains “Sit on It”, a Facebook Page dedicated to remembering the Kings Island of our past, as well as looking forward to the Kings Island of our future.  It can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/SitonItKI/

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