With just a rope, a wooden building and a leap of faith,
Chuck Doennig created clean, family fun in the heart of the Ozarks
member Landon Lewis gives three young visitors a shove to begin their
swing off a 15-foot platform called The Beast.
Maybe a leap
of faith is the best way to describe it. You take a step to the left,
then push off the platform with your right foot.
Overhead the Christian rock band DC Talk sings, I took a dive, I
took a love plunge into your arms; I took a dive, I jumped in with all
my heart; I took a diiiiive . . . The platform disappears beneath
you. Wide-eyed, you look down at the quickly approaching ground.
Suddenly the thick loop of braided, yellow twine wrapped around your waist
catches, pulling you clockwise. You soar inside a wooden building, past
heads and napping dogs, exhilaration rushing through you. You smile. The
swings momentum dies and you land on thick padding. You wiggle out
of the twine loop and hurry up the stairs to go again.
Go out into the fields, past the bright lights and perpetual noise and
you will see the swing. It hangs just south of Ozark, down the road from
Bobs E-E-E-Z-Z-Z Stop and a store furnishing home brewing supplies.
You see them from half a mile away giant white letters shouting
SWINGS painted on the roof of an old, wooden building.
In an era where most teenagers spend evenings in movie theaters or cruising
with friends, Doennig Sport Swings provides an entertainment alternative.
see the large, wooden structure as you turn left on the ramp at Highway
EE, just off Highway 65 south of Ozark. Despite the rural location,
there are more than 200 visitors some nights.
The giant swings, housed in the heart of rolling hills and overgrown pastures,
have been drawing visitors for more than 17 years. Hayrides on wooden
buses, old-fashioned weenie roasts, paintball and rock climbing add even
more to an experience unlike any other.
This is the awesomest place to hang out! shouts Chandas Gilbert,
an eighth grader from Ozark. She and dozens of other youths can be found
swaying through the air during public sessions on Friday and Saturday
Everybody comes here! she yells, her voice fading as she swings
off a ledge in the buildings loft.
Dont ask where he came up with the idea for the swings. Chuck Doennig
has always had a flair for ingenuity. Growing up on a farm, he built tunnels
from bales of straw, itchy labyrinths of hidden passages and dead ends.
While classmates sewed in arts and crafts, he made a shoe scraper for
his familys porch. Later, in high school, he welded pickup grills
and built a hutch for his bedroom.
At some point, Chuck perfected a ballbearing mechanism that allowed a
rope to swing on an elliptical path. He attached heavy-duty strapping
to the device and hung it from the rafters in one of his fathers
outbuildings. Chuck found he could safely orbit through the air after
jumping from a platform. The improvement made the swinging motion more
controlled and increased time aloft. The goal, Chuck decided, was to jump
off the platform and return after making several rotations.
In 1985, Chuck took his own leap of faith, expanding his creation from
a pastime to a part-time business. The original idea was to provide a
clean, fun environment for teenagers and young adults but the swings quickly
proved popular with all ages. Visitors as old as 79 and young as 2 have
tried the swings over the years.
platform of The Beast stands outside the main building.
The larger swing requires additional harnesses and intimidates most
plays a large role in the business. A policy of no foul language is strictly
enforced. Sunday mornings, Christmas and Easter are the only times the
swings are unavailable for rent. Upbeat Christian music is played throughout
the night and a cross is centered in the business logo.
Perhaps it is a sign that hangs near the buildings concession stand
that best explains Chucks philosophy:
We can give you a clean atmosphere where you can swing your heart
out, but only Jesus can clean your heart out and give you real joy!
In addition to the swings, Chuck offers paintball, hay rides, bonfires
and inflatable play areas.
Seven years ago, Chuck built a paintball course on the north end of the
lot. Dead trees, cement culverts, a wooden bridge and underground tunnels
now cover the area. Chuck is constantly thinking of ways to enhance the
You know Chuck, his sister Cathy says. Always working
on the better mousetrap.
For those looking for more passive amusement, Chuck offers hayrides in
an unusual vehicle of his own design. Stripping the body of a bus and
replacing it with a wooden roof and sides, he created The Hillmobilly.
The wooden bus provided a novel vehicle for hayrides and attracted attention
as Chuck drove in local parades.
Since creating the first Hillmobilly, Chuck has built three more wooden
buses, including one with a mounted swing so staff could swing during
parades. Chuck called it the Broken North Pole since the red
and white striped pole rose up and then bent horizontally behind the bus.
Employees, dressed like elves, swung during Christmas parades.
In January 1987, Chuck took his business to new heights when he erected
a menacing, 33-foot steel structure called The Beast. Small
children speak reverently in hushed tones as they peer up at it in awe.
This is Lori Schryvers first time on The Beast and shes nervous.
The California native is here with her son and a friend from Nixa. She
watches intently as an employee explains how to put on the harness. After
listening, she straps herself in, takes a deep breath and steps off the
original swings hang in the buildings main loft. Two swingers
can go at the same time on separate ropes. The ropes are 12 feet long,
and the launch platform is seven feet above the padding.
Sheer terror crosses
her face as she falls, but as the swing arcs upward a smile quickly spreads.
She laughs the entire time, her face turning beet red. Once on the ground,
she rushes back to stand in a line of kids one-fourth her age.
It was kind of scary, she says excitedly. Ive
got a little adrenaline running, but its really fun.
From the beginning, Chuck, a member of White River Valley Electric Cooperative,
relied on the word of others to promote his business. Although he rarely
advertised, news spread through churches and schools as youth groups began
reserving the swings. On some nights, more than 200 people filled the
building. As the numbers grew so too did the facilities.
Eight swings now hang in the wooden structure that originally housed two.
Two swings are in the buildings main entrance while four other swings
are suspended over padded pits in the buildings loft. The other
two swings hang in an adjoining building. At the far end of the main building
is a 29-foot climbing wall. A wide range of inflatable play areas, from
castles to giant boxing gloves, are also available for rent.
During the fall, goats join visitors on hayrides or lounge in the parking
lot. Bobs Place and Fort Bobs, the two areas used for bonfires,
were named in honor of one of Chucks dearly departed goats. Stumps
surround both areas and provide a place where visitors can sit and chat
around the fire after a hayride. Chuck provides hot dogs, baked beans,
potato salad, smores and hot chocolate during bonfires.
It seems Chuck has all the right ingredients for clean, country fun. Yet
he is always striving to improve. He has purchased land in Oklahoma and
hopes to one day build another site. Maybe then others can experience
the gospel that began with a rope, a wooden building and a leap of faith.
For more information call Doennig Sport Swings at (417) 443-6600.