It is with deepest sadness that Sundown Adventureland today announces the passing of its founder and visionary Audrey Rhodes, 92, who died in the early hours of Wednesday morning 24th March 2021.
Audrey put her life and soul into Sundown Adventureland, a business she started with her husband in 1968 from her back garden, and she was at its helm until her passing this week – running the business with her daughter Gaynor and her grandchildren.
Audrey died from a short illness, at her home within Sundown Adventureland’s grounds, where she has lived since she started the business in 1968. Her dedicated family were by her side.
Her grandchildren Debs and Shaun, and her daughter who have been managing the park with Audrey for several years 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.”
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.”
Sundown Adventureland was Audrey’s dream, and she started the business with her husband John, from the back garden of their bungalow in 1968, with just a few pets, which local children and families would come to visit.
From a donkey which came from the seaside town of Rhyl in Wales, which was collected from the local train station – to goats, sheep, rabbits, Guinea pigs and even a pet monkey called Coco – Sundown became home to donated animals and pets that people no longer wanted or couldn’t keep. The business became known locally as Sundown Pet’s corner, after the name of the bungalow.
During the summer of 1968 and in its first year, Sundown had seen over 2000 visitors and by 1972, 60 coach loads of school children. Audrey and John’s vision to provide a small petting park for local children was growing.
From a 2.5 acre petting zoo to the 60-acre fairy-tale theme park that it is today, by 1984 it had become a leading employer in the rural area and had been credited for its contribution to local tourism and employment.
As the years passed Audrey and John added rides and more play areas which were all heavily themed to fit in the different areas of the park, from a smugglers cove to mazes and sandpits, a jolly pirate boat ride and Western style train ride.
But in 1995, with health and safety restrictions imposed on keeping exotic animals, Audrey and John decided to rehome their animals, but knowing they were such an important part of the park and the reason it all began – they decided to introduce animated animals to Sundown, which are still a very popular attraction on the park today.
Tragedy struck in 2008 when Audrey’s devoted husband John sadly passed away. The family were devastated, and Audrey said that the park never quite felt the same without him. Audrey and her daughter Gaynor carried on the dream, building a four-story indoor play area and themed café, which was opened for Audrey’s 80th birthday party in 2009.
Over the last 10 years, Sundown has added four more rides including its popular driving school, teacups and a jumping pig ride as well as being the first park in the UK to have the Angry Birds play equipment.
Right up until her illness, Audrey always insisted on being the first person on any of the new rides installed at Sundown, but her pride and joy was always Sundown’s famous Night Before Christmas sleigh ride which she installed in 2010 at a cost of £1million.
“It is still the most popular ride on the park, attracting crowds of people throughout November and December every year, and Mum always made sure that she was around to test it – always the first person to ride the train to see Santa.”
In 2020 Sundown Adventureland was voted the fourth-best theme park in the UK and the 16th best in Europe, according to TripAdvisor customers, an accolade which Audrey was incredibly proud of.
Coronavirus sadly closed the gates of Sundown for much of 2020 and the park is now busy planning its re-opening for later this year as the lockdown restrictions are lifted. It is still as popular as ever with tickets selling out for its first weekend of opening on 12 April, which is testament to Audrey’s dedication and vision to the end.
Audrey Rhodes has been at Sundown’s helm for 53 years, a lifetime’s work and a passion which has been unabated. From the families who visit to the staff who work there, from the exciting new rides she installed and the vision for its continued future – Audrey Rhodes will be sadly missed by all who knew her.
Her daughter Gaynor, her grandchildren, as well as her Great Grandchildren, are committed to continuing Audrey’s dream.