Substitute teacher readies her role for Panic Park

Substitute teacher Marie Lemka will be a witch at Panic Park this year.

Marie Lemka brings a whole new meaning to a scary substitute. 

Lemka, a substitute teacher within Cedar Falls and Waterloo amps up the scary starting Oct. 12 and for the rest of October on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at Panic Park.

“My son actually got me started [volunteering at Panic Park].  He had helped the first year when it was at Blackhawk Park. The next year, he asked me to come out and be a body.  They turned me into a clown, [and] the rest is history,” Lemka said.

Lemka does all sorts of things when she volunteers. Throughout the years, Lemka has played the roles of a clown, a witch, a fortune teller, the nanny in the nursery, a receptionist before the dentist’s office, the Black Widow, a trash heap with a rat and a teacher in a haunted classroom.

To Lemka, volunteering and dressing up is more than just playing a role. It is making sure everyone has a great time, and it is also spending time with all the other volunteers, who she said are like family to her.

“I love getting into character. I put on the makeup and the costume, and I get to be someone so much more daring and exciting. I get to let my creative side take over and shine,” Lemka said.  “We (the volunteers) are a lot like family. We would do just about anything to make the haunt run, and run smoothly. We can barely contain our excitement for the first screams every year.”

The haunted house started as a family thing, and one of Lemka’s most memorable moments from the whole experience is when she became a “mama bear” to protect her daughter.

“I loved when my son and daughter both could come out and haunt with me.  I remember the first time I was a clown, and some intoxicated college kid tried to hit on my 12-year-old daughter as she was the dead bride in the cemetery. I guarantee he is afraid of clowns after a momma bear clown chased him out of the building,” Lemka said.

Preparation for the next year’s scares began very early on.  All the volunteers worked hard to make sure the coming year is just as successful or even more than the previous year.

“We start working on ideas for next year on Halloween. In July we have a few people going out on weekends to start working on their rooms. The rangers and the park staff usually start working in August,” Lemka said.  “All of us can barely wait for the river to go back where it belongs so we can scare the screams out of the area.”

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