Rural Missouri Magazine

Just Swingin'
With just a rope, a wooden building and a leap of faith,
Chuck Doennig created clean, family fun in the heart of the Ozarks

by Jarrett Medlin

kids swinging
Staff 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 swing’s 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 Bob’s 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.

swing & other buildings
You 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 nights.

“Everybody comes here!” she yells, her voice fading as she swings off a ledge in the building’s loft.

Don’t 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 family’s 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 father’s 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.

The Beast
The platform of “The Beast” stands outside the main building. The larger swing requires additional harnesses and intimidates most first-timers.

Chuck’s fatih 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 building’s concession stand that best explains Chuck’s 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 course.

“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 Schryver’s first time on The Beast and she’s 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 platform.

loft swing
The original swings hang in the building’s 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. “I’ve got a little adrenaline running, but it’s 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 building’s main entrance while four other swings are suspended over padded pits in the building’s 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. Bob’s Place and Fort Bob’s, the two areas used for bonfires, were named in honor of one of Chuck’s 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, s’mores 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.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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