Fountain memories

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:40 PM

Creason, 88, is the wife of fountain brainchild Dr. Bill Creason. She was with Bill in Germany six decades ago when he performed dentistry for the U.S. Navy.

It was there that Bill first witnessed a nightclub attraction that would one day change the West Michigan landscape forever — a 12-foot-long, floor-to-ceiling dancing waters show.

“It was one guy doing a floor show that he operated with foot pedals,” recalled Mary, a Grand Haven resident. “It was fascinating, it really was. Bill didn't say much at the time about it, but he did go and talk to the operator.”

That image percolated in her husband's mind long after he left Germany.

Bill won a position on Grand Haven City Council in 1955 and became mayor two years later. He longed to clean up the scars that scathed the Grand Haven waterfront after years of industrial use.

“I always said you've got a perfect place for something special there over on the hill,” Mary recalled. “We did talk about that often. I thought maybe Christmas trees or something.”

Never did she dream that Dewey Hill would become home to a super-scale version of their Berlin nightclub experience.

Bill gathered the brightest and the best in the skill sets he needed for the project — engineering, plumbing, electrical, broadcast and fundraising — and set to work in 1960 to design and build what was then to be the world's largest musical fountain. He talked one of his dental patients, Bill Booth, into designing the image in his mind.

After a couple of trial runs in late 1962, the fountain debuted on Memorial Day 1963.

“Bill was always there,” Mary said. “We called him 'Bill on the Hill.'”

When her husband wasn't busy on the hill, he was programming shows at the Creason home.

“The whole family was involved because it would go on and on and on,” Mary said. “Bill would sit there and say, '21, 22, 23 ...' He would mark a change for the fountain and code the different things the fountain would do, like the sweeps and height of the individual spouts.”

Mary remembers taking the kids to see the first trial run in November 1962.

“I took them down there in their pajamas, which a lot of the parents did because it was late,” Mary said. “We went down for this big opening and the voice came on (Ron Hartsema) and the fountain showed up. Little Paul said, 'Yeah, I know — 21, 22, 23 ...”

Day after day programming, night after night performing, the fountain became part of the Creason family. Their kids — Kennard, Yvonne, Steve and Paul — spent a lot of time working the fountain, too.

“There was a little rowboat the kids would take over,” Mary said. “Paul is a big swimmer and he would swim over."

The Creasons would often watch the show from the source side — in the midst of the spray, aircraft landing lights and blaring bass of the majestic music.

“It's a beautiful sight from over there,” Mary said. “I loved just sitting on the steps and watching. It's not fair because not everybody could do that.”

But in a sense, Mary is the mother of the fountain and Bill is its father. They gave birth to the summer icon that draws thousands of visitors from around the world every season.

“We're still very happy about it and glad that it's there,” Mary said. “So many people have contributed so much to make the improvements. The rededication Sunday will be a big night.”

Will Mary and Bill be there to join the celebration that begins at 9:30 p.m. at Waterfront Stadium?

“You betcha'," she said.


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