On the Backs of Dragons
While working on the farm as a young boy, I had time to daydream. As I milked cows and plucked chickens, I played the “what-if” game with myself. “What if,” I’d wonder, “I had a million dollars?” Or, “What if I could be whatever I wanted to be?” In this setting, among fresh cow manure and grunting pigs, I cultivated the imagination that would eventually lead me to create my own world.
I was born and raised in Idaho during the 1960s and 1970s. I grew up working on farms and ranches in my community, as well as in my own backyard. My father was a hard-working banker, accustomed to receiving calls from concerned neighbors in our small town about his children — most often about me. “Dale,” they would say, “did you know your son is driving around town with a naked woman?” My father did not find my explanation that it was merely a mannequin neither funny nor redeeming. My mother raised her kids with smothering love and a wooden spoon, curved perfectly for paddling her children (especially for stunts like driving around with a nude mannequin).
I learned a great deal of life lessons from these two fearless beings. The most prominent being how take a job from start to finish. If I were assigned to clean the barn, Dad would come check my work, tell me what I did well, and instruct me how to do it better. My parents told me that I could be whatever I wanted in life, if I worked hard enough and saw my jobs through. Basic tasks became challenges that I couldn’t wait to tackle. I left for college in 1986, at the age of 21, with confidence and motivation.
College seemed like the natural next step for me, although I didn’t have any real idea of what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to do it. Not long after my enrollment, I met a girl who was my equal in imagination and zest for life. Immediately, I was attracted to her spirit of adventure, and she admired my passion for life. We got married just 10 months after knowing each other. I can’t imagine a better partner for my journey.
I changed my major multiple times before I realized that I was wasting my time. I decided that, although I have always understood the importance of education, I would find mine out in the world by simply diving into it. I will say that my time in college gave me the understanding that there was a vast number of opportunities available for what I wanted to do with my life. It was with this optimism that my wife and I began our young family.
I jumped into sales jobs after leaving college, although I ultimately knew I did not want to work simply to make money. I wanted to love what I was doing. For the time being, however, I sold windows and doors, among other products, with 100% commission. It didn’t take long for me to hit the ceiling of potential in that career field, and I soon became dissatisfied with the block on my growth. A prior offer I had turned down from my father-in-law to come work for him in his specialized line of work was suddenly worth reconsidering.
My father-in-law designed museums and was then working out in Wisconsin. He owned a wax figure museum and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum which is a franchise museum featuring discoveries and oddities from early 1900s world traveler, Robert Ripley. My wife and I decided we would take a chance. Because the initial manager job my father-in-law had offered me was no longer available, I took an enormous pay cut and began working for my brother-in-law in screen-printing. We moved into my in-laws’ basement with our four kids and tried to get by on $7 an hour.
Before long, I began daydreaming again. I had always loved creating games and spent much of my childhood doing just that. Once, I created an original haunted house for the neighborhood kids. And another time, I spearheaded outrageous game planning for our family reunions. Later as an adult, I crafted original games for kids to play at my own children’s birthday parties. I never did grow out of playing. With this mindset, I approached my father-in-law with an idea I had to increase business for his wax figure museum. Not only was it affordable, but it would give customers a chance to do something they would not necessarily expect to be doing at a wax figure museum.
I created an on-set mystery where Michael Jackson’s white glove had been stolen, and between wax characters such as the seven dwarves, Billy the Kid, and Alice in Wonderland, customers had to uncover what had happened to it. Customers who solved the mystery could put their names into a drawing for a television set we had purchased. The idea was a great success and brought some new movement back into the business. From this experience, my father-in-law asked me to head up the marketing department, but my wife and I had other things in mind. It was at this point I slowly began to realize that I could create a career path out of doing the things I loved, and I had the perfect partner with whom to do it.
My wife and I wanted to take our little family and move out West. So, in 1996, we uprooted to a promising location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in which we would construct and open our own Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum. That museum was only the beginning. Seven years later, my father-in-law was ready to sell the lease on his wax museum building, and we jumped on the opportunity. It would serve as the building in which my wildest dreams would come to light.
Living in the West, especially in Wyoming, we had plenty of opportunities for long car rides. Our kids ran cross country and track and field, and it was not unusual for their competitions to be up to eight hours away. Because there was a lot of time to kill, my wife and I began with those same, “what-if” conversations I had entertained as a child. “What if,” we said, “we could make a museum into a game?” “What if we could bring families together through this game?” “What if” we dreamed, “it might work?”
Together with my wife, we renovated the wax museum into an original business concept called Wizard Quest, which we opened in 2005. Wizard Quest is a 13,000 square foot fantasy-themed building in which tourists in the Wisconsin Dells area can have an experience vastly unlike anything they have done before. The building is made up of four realms, Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, collectively called the Quadrasphere, that questers explore to find clues and answers to questions that gains them points, which can be used to either free or shackle the four wizards of each realm, depending on which way their conscious leads them through the backstory of the Wizard Quest world. The area is filled with secret passages, riddles, tunnels, and slides. There are small hidden passageways for the young ones to uncover and riddles or mysteries for an older crowd to solve. It is designed to bring the different strengths of different people together in a manner that challenges and thrills.
The business was created under the concept that the quest could not be accomplished alone. It thrives on teamwork, collaboration, and togetherness, similar to the mindset with which it was built. While many would call me the gamemaster, it is my wife’s creativity that played a huge part in the success of Wizard Quest. She crafted the atmosphere of the place, doing everything from set design, to sculpting, to painting, and anything in between. Eventually, my oldest son became a critical member of our art department, as he inherited his mother’s skillset. My second-eldest has only recently joined the team as well in a management position; it truly is a family affair, which is fitting for the business because that is what it was built around: family.
Starting with an original business concept left us with no blueprints to follow or successes to mirror, so the first two weeks of the Wizard Quest opening were a nightmare of software bugs and sleepless nights of polishing the details of the concept, but it did not take long for the public to largely embrace the magical world we desired to share. We ran the business for many years from our beloved home in Wyoming, only moving back to Wisconsin in the past five years after our youngest child graduated high school.
And that’s how a farm boy, daydreaming in the fields grew up to realize that he could make people smile for a living. And that’s what I strive to do. I learned that I could share the magic I saw in the world, as long as I had a team of believers. Together, we decide just how high we can soar on the backs of dragons. Or pixies. Or griffins. We have them all!
This is the story of Kevin Ricks
Kevin was raised as an Idaho farm-boy with big dreams and the imagination to get him there. After dropping out of college to pursue those unique dreams, he was finally able to create his dream world, together with his wife and team, as a self-taught business man. Kevin is now living happily in Wisconsin surrounded by much of his family, maintaining and expanding their businesses together. He is expecting his first grandchild and is thrilled to continue the magic for his upcoming grandson, as that childhood magic is what he strives to maintain and revive for his guests. Currently, his business team, Concept Attractions, is working on expanding concepts in their community, including a Wizard Quest-themed park still in early development, in addition to spreading into computer game and app opportunities that all connect back to the original Wizard Quest creation. Recently, his team was contracted out to draw up the master plan for the entire community’s downtown development in Wisconsin Dells. When he is not passionately working on their business empire, he can be found serving others, spending nights by the campfire, kayaking at the lake, or running his family, friends, and his employees — who are more like family — through rounds of his classic, outrageous, originally created games and contests.
If you are interested in learning more about Wizard Quest, please visit their website at: https://www.wizardquest.com/
Life Log #95
This story first touched our hearts on June 11, 2018.