The family of the founder of Sundown Adventureland, who spent over 50 years at the helm, paid tribute to a “special lady” after her death from a short illness this week.
Audrey Rhodes started the business with her husband John in 1968 from the back garden of their bungalow before it became a popular children’s theme park. It is located in Rampton near Retford, only half an hour from Lincoln.
Audrey was at the helm running the business with her daughter Gaynor and her grandchildren Debs and Shaun until she sadly died in the early hours of the morning on Wednesday, March 24.
She died with her family by her side at her home within Sundown Adventureland’s grounds, where she has lived since she started the business.
Her daughter Gaynor, and grandchildren Debs and Shaun, are committed to continuing Audrey’s dream, along with her great grandchildren.
They said: “Sundown owes everything to this special lady who has been at its helm for 53 years. She has never retired and was as dedicated in her 90s as she was in her 40s. She worked relentlessly around the park until the end.
“Everything about Sundown is down to Audrey and her vision. She was devoted to creating fun for children, providing them with somewhere truly special to make wonderful memories with their families. We will ensure that her legacy continues.
“She will be very sadly missed by not only her devoted family but all of Sundown’s staff and our customers as well.
“She was always present on the park, chatting to everyone she met, and until recently, still enjoyed working in the gift shop. It was her passion, and her life and Sundown will always be dedicated to this very special lady.”
John sadly died in 2008 and Audrey said the park never quite felt the same without him. But right up until her illness, Audrey always insisted on being the first person on any of the new rides installed at Sundown.
Her pride and joy was always Sundown’s famous Night Before Christmas sleigh ride, which she installed in 2010 at a cost of £1 million.
When Audrey and John first launched Sundown Adventureland a few local children and families would come and visit.
A donkey came from the seaside town of Rhyl in Wales and there were goats, sheep, rabbits, Guinea pigs and even a pet monkey called Coco.
Sundown soon became home to donated animals and pets that people no longer wanted or couldn’t keep, with the business known locally as Sundown Pet’s Corner.
During the summer of 1968 and in its first year, Sundown had seen over 2,000 visitors and by 1972 60 coach loads of school children.
By 1984, it became a leading employer and as the years passed Audrey and John added rides and more play areas. Then in 1995, they decided to rehome their animals due to health and safety restrictions imposed on keeping exotic animals.
They later decided to introduce animated animals to sundown, which are still a very popular attraction on the park today.
Then last year Sundown Adventureland, which is planning to reopen on April 12, was voted the fourth best theme park in the UK and 16th best in Europe, according to TripAdvisor.
In an interview to celebrate Sundown Adventureland’s 50th anniversary in 2019, Audrey said: “My advice and my motivation has always been to just have the imagination and your dreams and it will happen.”