Former Kiddieland owner finds happiness with different career
Tom Norini, an owner/operator of Kiddieland, gets ready to send some children on a last ride during the Melrose Park amusement park's Oct. 4, 2009 final day of operation. | Kalley Schillen
Updated: June 8, 2012 10:59AM
Tom Norini is still working with people — and still enjoying it.
A former owner/operator of Kiddieland, the Melrose Park amusement park that closed 2 1/2 years ago, Norini, who was Kiddieland’s general manager, wasn’t happy to see the 81-year-old children’s paradise close. But he has spent much of his time since the Oct. 4, 2009 final day of operation continuing in an area of work that he also enjoys, one that in most ways is very different.
The 60-year-old Oak Brook resident works as an emergency medical technician in the emergency room at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park. He became an EMT in 2008 and worked part-time hours at Gottlieb, while also going to school. He increased to full-time work last summer.
“I had dreams of going to medical school before I ever got involved with Kiddieland,” Norini said. “I started back to school at Midwestern University in Downers Grove in 2007.
“Because I had been out of school so long, I had to retake science classes; and I did that at Triton College.”
Norini is hoping to become a physician’s assistant, waiting to hear back from colleges to which he has applied for admission. Meanwhile, he continues to enjoy working in the emergency room at Gottlieb.
“I really enjoy the work in the E.R.,” he said. “There’s an urgency to it.
“It’s not a place where people come to get cured; it’s where you stabilize them, and it’s a lot of different things you deal with there.”
Working in a hospital emergency room certainly is very different than operating the most popular kids’ amusement park in the Chicago area. But there is one major similarity, Norini said.
“I come from a customer service background, and serving the patients and their families on what, in some cases, is the worst day of their lives is all about customer service,” he said. “I’m a people person; that’s what I always enjoyed most about working at Kiddieland.
“I liked the people. I went out and helped park cars toward the end so I could be right there with all the people.”
The process that led to the closing of Kiddieland was not a pleasant one. Norini owned and operated the park along with his ex-wife, her brother and her brother’s wife. Norini’s ex-wife and her brother are descendents of the original Kiddieland owner.
The four who owned and operated Kiddieland leased the land on which the park was occupied at First and North avenues from another family member, who decided to not renew the lease and instead sell the land. A Costco warehouse store is now on the property.
“When they were tearing down the last things, I sat and cried,” Norini said. “It was very difficult for many of us.
“It was so enjoyable working with the public. I do miss that. But I’ve had to let it go. There’s no point in staying bitter.”
Norini was involved with the operation of Kiddieland for 33 years, and nearly all of his memories are fond ones.
“I had the luxury of liking what I did,” he said. “We struggled, financially, for a while after we bought the park, but we made a commitment and kept it going for a number of years.
“For me, it was something that became my life; it wasn’t just going to work.”