On The Earie
by Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador
The holiday season provides another opportunity to reflect on what a lucky guy I am, to have moved from a mundane profession that is usually the result of achieving a degree in accounting, to an exciting career to as what former Minnesota State Fair Manager Mike Heffron would refer to as an ink stained wretch, in other words, a journalist.
You could say it happened by accident, but that would not be true. As a sophomore in high school, I told my favorite teacher, V. V. (we called her check check) Clark that I dreamed of being a sportswriter. I wanted to cover my local high school's football games and see that By Tom Powell byline on the top of the story. I was fortunate enough to have an in with the local Scranton, Pa. Tribune when Jimmy Calpin, a neighbor, who was the assistant sports editor, got me a job as a copy boy. That was the start of what has become a wonderful journey.
Who wouldn't be thrilled to get a job paying 75 cents an hour and working from 10 p.m. to midnight? After a while, my hours changed from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., and that's the way they remained as I spent four years attending the Jesuit-operated University of Scranton.
I went to school full time and worked 40 hours a week. I wouldn't recommend it, but it worked for me. The tuition was $161 a semester, and I couldn't afford it. My mom, a housewife, and dad, a coal miner, didn't ask me to go to college. Even though I was only the second person in our neighborhood to do that, (Jack McLane was the other), they told me I was going. That was the end of the story. They would pay for the first semester and I would work to pay for the rest. I'm glad I had such loving parents.
Over the years, as a sportswriter, and even more so as editor of Amusement Business, I have had the opportunity to write about, and wine and dine with an enormous amount of wonderful people. One was Denzil Skinner, who ran the Louisiana Superdome, and another was Andy Osak, who owned the Showtown USA bar in Gibsonton, Fla. Both helped teach me the meaning of humility when each, basically, told me the same thing, that I was equally as comfortable in a bar room as I was in a board room.
As AB Publisher Walt Heeney said when he hired me, “It helps if you drink.” He was right.
Alfie Phillips was a key cog in Canada's Conklin Shows for many years. A former OABA director, he and his wife, Pam, always send Christine and me a great Christmas Card from their home in Toronto. This year's showed a painting of a train, with the words on the bottom saying, “In 1976, Conklin Shows, led by Jim Conklin, acquired the contract for the Western A Fairs, Red River Exhibition, Winnipeg, Calgary Stampede, Edmonton Klondike Days, and Regina Buffalo Days.
At the time, Conklin Shows did not travel by train. However, as this photo shows, they did place some trailers on the train to go west. This photo was taken by Doug Hall, Conklin photographer at the time. Getting this photo proved to be quite a challenge. We played the West for 29 years. Our last year was 2004.”
I'll never forget going to the Calgary Stampede on one of its busiest days. I approached Phillips and asked if he had time for an interview. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “You showed enough interest in our show to fly all the way up here, and you ask if I have the time. You bet I do.” You never forget moments like that. The rest of the Christmas card included a message from English author P. G. Wodehouse, that said, “It is better to travel with hope than to arrive. Once you arrive, whatever you were hoping for becomes a reality, hope is no longer a reality.” In his own words, the laconic Alfie wrote, “Here's hoping that you have a memorable Christmas. KEEP IT GOING, IT'S GREAT!”
On one of my first trips to Las Vegas I met a guy who would become a special lifetime friend. That man was Don Greiman, a past president of the Iowa Association of Fairs. We hit it off so well that he, Bill Alter of National Ticket, Don Myers, who ran the building in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and I agreed to meet for a quiet moment and a few drinks at every convention after that. I remember Greiman praising AB and saying, “How would an old country boy like me know anything about Danny Fleenor, Benny (Boom Boom) Koske, and a lot of other people if it wasn't for AB.
Now 92, Greiman was quoted in a Dec. 17 newspaper article, saying he never thought he would see the day the North Iowa Fair, Mason City, would be recognized as the best in North Central Iowa.” Don is one of the best.
The spring meeting of the OABA was held in Nashville a long time ago, and a big party was held at the Nashville Palace, that was owned by my good friend, Johnny Hobbs. Morton brought tons of frozen food from Alaska, including salmon and caribou. I kept eating the latter, thinking it was pepperoni, or something like that, and saying it was delicious. That was until I found out what it was. I'm like that, and Christine still insists that labels were attached to every item. I might have had a few drinks!
One of the many nice guys I've met along the way is Pierogi Joe Stanavage, who lives with his wife, Weezie, and Joe Jr., in Hazelton, Pa., which is about 40 miles from Scranton. He works a lot of fairs in the Keystone State, including Allentown and Bloomsburg. During 50 of his years of working as an independent concessionaire, Stanavage was also employed as a journeyman printer. We both have in common, that printer's blood in our veins. I've known a few. But his words of wisdom sounded as good to me as his pierogis taste, and they are delicious. Wise old Joe said, “I've had bad days in the business, but never a bad year.” Here's to better days for all of us!
I haven't touched the surface of all the fantastic people my job has allowed me to meet, but you all know who you are, and if I haven't met you yet, I'm in for more treats. Thanks for the memories, so far.
Have all great days, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God Bless!