Call her a catalyst, a spark, an inspiration. Morgan Hartman doesn’t realize it, but her ability to smile through physical and cognitive challenges spurred her parents – Gordon and Maggie Hartman – to do things never before accomplished for individuals with special needs and their families. Morgan not only inspired the creation of a one-of-a-kind theme park but also a unique school and other initiatives benefitting the special-needs community.
The tipping point occurred in 2005 when Gordon observed Morgan wanting to play with other vacationing kids at a hotel swimming pool, but the kids were leery of Morgan and didn’t want to interact with her. Then and there, Gordon resolved to create opportunities and places where those with and without disabilities can come together not only for fun but also for a better understanding of one another. That led to the construction of Morgan’s Wonderland in an abandoned quarry in Northeast San Antonio. It’s apropos that the butterfly is the symbol of this unique theme park; soaring to one success after another is now commonplace.
When it celebrated its grand opening April 10, 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland became the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. The completely wheelchair-accessible park features more than 25 elements including rides, playgrounds and other colorful attractions. From the very beginning, anyone with a special need has been admitted free of charge, no questions asked.
It is Morgan’s fervent hope that everyone with a special need – young and older, healthy or ailing, introspective or outgoing – will be touched in a very special way by Morgan’s Wonderland: a shrine of inclusion, an oasis of friendship, an unforgettable wonderland…Morgan’s Wonderland!
Native San Antonian Gordon V. Hartman is a philanthropist and former businessman who at the age of 15 started his own landscaping business while attending a local seminary. By age 19, he had saved enough to begin his homebuilding business, and by age 23, he had started a land development company. Founded in 1983, Gordon Hartman Homes built housing for low- to moderate-income families. Over the next 22 years, Gordon grew his company into the largest locally owned homebuilding and land development enterprise in San Antonio.
In 2005, Gordon sold his companies and established The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation so he and wife Maggie could pursue their dream of helping children and adults with special needs. In 2007, he recognized the tremendous need for fully accessible outdoor recreational facilities, so he made another dream come true – the April 2010 grand opening of Morgan’s Wonderland. Two years later, global automotive giant Toyota, a leader in mobility solutions for drivers with disabilities, opted to become the presenting sponsor of Morgan’s Wonderland under a long-term philanthropic agreement with Gordon.
Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed more than 1 million guests from all 50 states and 65 countries through park participation and special events. Gordon’s realization that families with special-needs members have great demands on both their financial and emotional resources led to his commitment to admit anyone with a special need free of charge.
Always looking to the future, Gordon is now constructing the world’s first all-inclusive splash park – Morgan’s Inspiration Island – scheduled to open in the spring of 2017. Like Morgan’s Wonderland, the new park will be ultra-accessible and feature tropically themed aquatic elements that everyone can enjoy.
Gordon also has played a key role in partnering with CRIT (Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletónUSA), a $17 million clinic next to Morgan’s Wonderland serving children with neurological, muscular and skeletal challenges. Modeled after successful CRITs in Mexico, CRIT USA is the first CRIT rehab center built in the U.S. The park plays an important role in the healing process by offering families respite from their treatment regimen and a chance to make memories together in a fun atmosphere.
Because of his generosity and vision, Gordon has earned extensive local, regional and national recognition including an honorary Doctorate of Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University. Gordon’s guiding motto is: “Together, we ARE making a difference!”
For more information, see “The History” section below.
Our vision is to establish a special place where smiles and laughter lead to wonderful memories with family members, friends and caregivers. We want Morgan’s Wonderland to be a place where the common element of play creates an atmosphere of inclusion for those with and without disabilities, encouraging everyone to gain a greater understanding of one another.
Morgan’s Wonderland is just like any other theme park except for a culture and environment that assures 100 percent enjoyment by every person who enters through the Welcome Center. Unfortunately, countless children and adults with special needs do not have access to facilities that enable them to fully enjoy outdoor recreation. Morgan’s Wonderland has begun to change that.
To provide a safe, clean and beautiful environment free of physical and economic barriers that all individuals – regardless of age, special need or disability – can come to and enjoy.
To take Morgan’s Wonderland from dream to reality, The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation in 2007 established non-profit Sports Outdoor And Recreation (SOAR), a non-profit to raise money for theme park construction and to provide for quality, professional management. Funding began with an initial gift from Gordon and Maggie Hartman in love and admiration for Morgan. Financial commitments for the $34 million park also came from the City of San Antonio, the State of Texas, charitable foundations, corporations and individuals.
In spring 2009, the Foundation broke ground for Morgan’s Wonderland on the former site of Longhorn Quarry in Northeast San Antonio. Construction took slightly more than a year, and a festive grand opening occurred April 10, 2010, with actress and philanthropist Eva Longoria and NBA basketball legend David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs on hand as special guests.
At the time of the park’s opening in 2010, Gordon also opened the STAR Soccer Complex, a 75-acre facility adjacent to the park for practices, tournaments and league play. He also launched Soccer for a Cause, a grassroots effort to establish pro soccer in San Antonio that led to the creation of the San Antonio Scorpions. The team began competition in spring 2012, moved into their new home – Toyota Field – a year later and won the 2014 North American Soccer League championship. Gordon created a business model unique to pro sports – utilizing pro soccer to generate financial support for Morgan’s Wonderland and the special-needs community.
In December 2015, Gordon sold Toyota Field to the City of San Antonio and Bexar County. All proceeds from the sale went directly to Morgan’s Wonderland, which will make it possible for it to pursue its mission of inclusion far into the future. Thus, Soccer for a Cause achieved both of its objectives – bringing exciting pro soccer to San Antonio and generating financial support for non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland.
Another passion that Gordon and Maggie share is The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland, a school for students with special needs that the Hartmans opened in August 2011. It’s a unique learning environment next to the theme park that helps students ages 12 to 24 to reach their maximum individual potential. The Academy is the only school in Texas to be accredited by the National Commission for the Accreditation of Special Education Services.
STRAPS (South Texas Regional Adaptive and Paralympic Sports) launched in 2012 to give athletes with physical disabilities opportunities to get moving, competing and enjoying improved fitness. Now offering competition in eight sports, STRAPS is a recognized community partner of the United States Olympic Committee (Paralympic Division) as a Paralympic Sports Club.
In November 2014, the CRIT (Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletónUSA) opened to help children with physical challenges. This venture of the Teletón USA Foundation and Univision Communications already serves more than 600 young patients. Morgan’s Wonderland offers a therapeutic outlet for children undergoing treatment and a recreational outlet for their families.
Slowly but surely, Longhorn Quarry is being transformed into a destination – Wonderland, Texas – focusing on family entertainment, sports, recreational activities, special events and education. What’s truly remarkable is that everything that happens at Wonderland, Texas, benefits individuals with special needs.