Life at Silver Dollar City is certainly sweeter with June Ward by our side.
The park’s master candy maker of 56 years is sugar, spice, and everything nice but can serve up one-liners sharper than the knife she uses to cut fudge. She’s feisty. She’s fun. She’s a legend — the true “Heart & Soul” of our City.
You won’t find aged index cards scribbled with recipes tacked to the walls of Brown’s Candy Factory. Those sweet secrets are tucked away safely in a book but are also preserved in “Aunt June’s” masterful mind which is always quick with a comeback.
“They’re all right here,” she says as she taps her temple. “I can’t just be all willy-nilly and leave a paper trail, you know!”
She may not blab about what makes her peanut brittle the best, but she’ll spill plenty of stories from her five decades at Silver Dollar City. And, goodness, she’s the keeper of so many.
She’ll tell you all about them if you have a seat at her “desk” — a marble slab behind a vat of perfectly-tempered chocolate. On this day, she’s making pecan clusters. Mid dip, she lets out a mischievous chuckle. “I’ve done some really bizarre things around here,” she laughs.
That pure, unbridled joy got the jumpstart in 1968 when she got a gig stamping mail at the park’s General Store. It wasn’t year-round work, so she picked up hours packaging candy at the factory down the hill.
“It didn’t take long before they snagged me for good,” she remembers. “They saw what I could do and the rest is history.”
The history of June Ward is so much more than packing peanut clusters or pulling taffy. It’s her whimsy. Her whit. It’s her undeniable charm that’s kept her tied to generations of visitors.
“It’s amazing how I’ve met folks on their honeymoon who come back later with their children and then those kids come back as grown-ups,” June smiles. “That’s a real honor for me.”
As sweet as can be but a pistol with pranks, June giggles at the memory of her best work.
“For some reason, people always think I’m behind all the mischief around here,” she says with a twinkle in her eye and hands on her hips. “I’m not sure why they would ever think that!”
It’s probably because June is — in fact — behind some of the park's best practical jokes, including when co-founder Jack Herschend received a custom parking spot.
“Oh, that’s a good one,” she laughs. “He always hated the idea of executives having fancy parking places, so I took a homemade sign and drove out the furthest point on the property and put up a sign that said ‘reserved for Jack Herschend.’ We got a good laugh with that!”
There’s also the bit about the time she named herself a corporate vice president. The employee cafeteria used to have a glass case with framed photos of Silver Dollar City’s owners and other top executives.
“Me and the candy girls took Polaroids and put our pictures on the case,” she laughs. “I was VP of Vacation and Travel until someone in HR saw the pictures and took them down a few weeks later. Jack asked me why I ever thought I could be a vice president of travel. I said I’d travel the world and report back what it looks like so no other employees ever need to use vacation.”
June says, that despite her pranks, having fun on the job is no joke.
“Mary Herschend used to tell me it’s essential to have fun as long as you get your work done,” she recalls. “What better place is there for me to playfully heckle my co-workers and make memories worth repeating than right here? This place has always treated me exactly like I want to be treated – like family.”
June’s longevity with the company certainly makes her a go-to when leaders want opinions on park life. She is always quick to provide input, even if it’s scribbled on a sugar sack.
“I jot down my thoughts occasionally on those bags and see what I can get done,” June laughs. “They might think I’m crazy sometimes but I know how to get their attention.”
And, she gets a lot of attention. From longtime colleagues to park guests from all over the country, her playful spirit has left its mark on multiple generations. Her upbeat tone turns somber as she remembers the moment she realized the impact she has on visitors. Years ago, a state trooper and his wife were in the candy store watching June and her crew make fudge.
“At the time, we let the audience beat on pie plates like a band. We named him our fudge choir director,” she says. “I got to know his wife and him over many, many years. He called me one year and told me his wife probably didn’t have long to live. He then told his children that if something ever happens to him one day, he wants them to call June to let her know. That makes me cry.”
Her cheerful mood turned sad as she recalled that story, but then she chimed in with a perfectly timed burst of June Ward humor.
“You know I hate to cry because it messes up my makeup,” she smiles. “I’m always in a full face so I can’t be bawling that off. I’ve got to look pretty because I go talk to the Board all the time.”
She then walks over and laughs as she stares at a big wooden plank on the wall that says “The Board.”
Even with her charming whit, June understands the serious impact she’s had on folks for 56 years. It’s hard not to encounter a co-worker who doesn’t have “the best June Ward story.”
After all, this is the gal who was a lighting stand-in for “Ellie May” when several episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies were filmed at Silver Dollar City in 1969. She’s also the only employee who can brag about having a mule named after her.
“They named that stagecoach mule June because it was a little bit pretty and a whole lot stubborn,” she says. “I’ve really got to start writing this stuff down!”
But, there’s so much to write down. It would be a tall task to document five decades of sweet memories or make a good guess about how many pounds of peanut brittle she’s made. The years have flown by but 56 years of creating candy, and some recent health issues, have slowed June down a bit. Her sass is still there though, along with a deep love for her work family.
“When I’m dipping chocolates, I think about them and the fun we’ve had. My candy family is my story. When you string all those memories together, you get a tale filled with a little bit of mischief and a whole bunch of fun.”
At almost 80 years old, June still has a job to do and won’t quit as long as she can still make people smile and get the work done. She’s like a catchy kids song you can’t forget. Generations have hummed “The Candyman Can” but our lady with the ladle has her own sweet song.
“You have to sing it loud. You ready?” she asks. “Pa rah rah boom-dee-ay. We’re making fudge today. We make it every day. We make it every way. Pa rah rah boom-dee-ay.”
She shuffles her feet to the ditty, then pauses with a huge smile. “Wasn’t that good? Isn’t life just the sweetest thing?”