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On The Earie by Tom Powell, OABA News Ambassador

Thu, June 06, 2019 6:29 PM | Sue Gallup (Administrator)

As I write this on June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which culminated in the invasion of Normandy, I find myself humming to the unforgettable tune of “This Will Be The Longest Day,” which it was, I'm certain, for all the military forces that came together for that momentous event.

            I was 11 years old and remember it vividly. As news spread, people were dancing and singing in the streets. The war was almost over, and the troops would be coming home soon. Hilda and Frank Santoro, who recently had purchased Noone’s Drug Store on our neighborhood corner of Bellevue in Scranton, Pa., were giving away free ice cream. Dips had gone from two for a nickel to two for a dime, so it was a big deal. Margie McDonnell, who was behind the counter, had a reputation for giving big scoops.

            We used to collect cans to help the war effort, and I remember some agency of government distributing free apples and blocks of cheese at our Horace Mann, No. 29 Grade School on several occasions. But I also remember that during the war, life went on. West Scranton's football team played Dunmore every Thanksgiving Day afternoon after Scranton Tech and Scranton Central battled in the morning. Nobody could ever beat Coach Johnny Henzes' Blakely Bears anyway, the school where Steve Swika attended.

            I knew and admired many who had been in the Army, Navy, and Marines, never dreaming that at the age of 23, I would receive a letter stating that my friends and neighbors had chosen me to be drafted into the U. S. Army. My two-year tour was mostly uneventful except, perhaps, for one time when I was awakened for guard duty at 3am and forgot to bring my rifle. Luckily, no enemies showed up for the longest hour I've ever spent marching outside a building in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

            I was fortunate in that my time in service occurred after the Korean War and before Viet Nam, 1956-1958. It was just the luck of the draw, but I still felt lonesome my first three months at Fort Dix, New Jersey. People thank me for my service, just because I was in, but I understand what their thoughts are, and at this particular time of year, it behooves us all to remember what we fought for. Amen!

            “It's time to go to work.” Those are the words being spoken this time of the year from people such as Judy Stevens to her husband, Lee, and Gala Habeck to her husband, Lee, in Gibsonton, Florida. They're all food concessionaires and the Habecks are scheduled to begin another season on June 8 at an annual Youth Carnival in New Brunswick, N. J., where Reithoffer Shows has the carnival midway. “A lot of fairs I play are smaller than this festival,” said Habeck, who seemed anxious to hit the road. I believe he was growing tired of renovating his bathroom, while Stevens sat nearby and kibitzed.

Habeck was president of the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibtown in 1987, while Stevens held that honor in 2004. A glutton for punishment, Stevens is the club's current first vice president, meaning he will be president again next year. Only Philip (Pee Wee) Hoskins, in 1985 and 1997, and Wilbur Cooke, in 2002 and 2015 have accomplished that feat before.

            After New Brunswick, the Habecks move with their popper to the Big Butler Fair, Prospect, Pa., a big early date for Powers Great American Midways. Helping out this year will be the Habeck's two grandsons, Ian, son of Andrew and Kim Habeck, and Kincaide Green, son of Jennifer and Jason Green. “We're lucky, as we know a lot of our friends who are depending on foreign labor through the H-2B Visa system and having trouble obtaining their needs.” He mentioned Ray and Patti Hrudka of Reithoffer Shows, and Dennis and Pat Rowland, who travel with Barrett's Fudge, as examples. “Dennis will be booking with Powers while Pat has an independent route. We know others as well. A lot of carnivals, fairs and the customers will suffer because some shows can't get all the rides up,” said Larry.

            Habeck, who started in the business in 1965 when he was 13, was born in Janesville, Wisconsin. His first show was Albert (Bucky) Steele's Steele's Amusements of Valparaiso, Indiana. Steele, an attorney, as well, was longtime treasure of the OABA. “I was in the business a long time before I ever learned that people actually left their joints during workdays. We were in Alexandria, Va., and I heard Bernard Thomas was nearby. I had heard a lot about him and hoped to make his acquaintance. Somebody told me to knock on his trailer door, and when I did, he was sitting there and watching the World Series on his television. I swear I never knew anybody who left the midway and watched TV in their trailer.”

            Lee and Judy Stevens, who spent 10 years traveling with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, have expanded from one to three food stands this year. One will feature elephant ears, another shaved ice, and the third, lemonade. “We're becoming the Netterfield of the corn field,” Lee laughed. Their season is set to begin June 25 at the Henry County Fair, Cambridge, Illinois.

Stevens said one of his stands is a stick joint, and he dealt with Kenny Smith of Rocken Graphics and Matt Wilson of Backyard Canvas for the others. Lee and Judy both attended the Florida Federation of Fairs Convention in St. Augustine, and he said, “It was interesting, enjoyable, and well attended.”

So far, Lee and Judy have played the Florida State Fair, Tampa; Collier County Fair, Naples, and Rhythm and Ribs Festival, St. Augustine. Their route includes dates also in Illinois and Missouri.

Lee is in charge of the Gibtown Club's annual circus, which draws three sellout crowds each year. It's a labor of love, as is his dedication to the club. “I'm optimistic about this year. The economy is great.”

            Ray Cammack Shows and Dave Helm & Sons Carnival have most of the rides on the independent midway for the May 31-July 4 San Diego County Fair, Del Mar, where Tim Fennell is chief executive officer and general manager. The fair boasts of having 4,188 attractions and 1,879 concerts. Attendance last year was a whopping 1,561,236. This is a true kickoff to the 2019 summer season. Performers include Bando El Recordo, The Fab Four, Jeff Dunham, Neil Sedaka, Christian Nodal, Jake Owen, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Toby Keith, Smokey Robinson, Mariachi Sol De Mexico, Simple Plan, truTV Impractical Jokers, AJR, The Clark Sisters, Grupo Intocable, Lindsey Stirling, Air Supply, Pitbull, Los Tigres del Norte, KC and The Sunshine Band, Trace Adkins, Dionne Warwick, Brad Upton, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees, Felix Cavaliere's Rascals, Charo and John Davidson, Ricky Lee Jones, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Bowzer and Johnny Contardo, and Grass Roots. Wow!

            Before the arrival of a golden goose named Jay Bruce, I was about to give up on the Phillies. The Red Sox are disappointing, but can come back, and I believe the Yankees, Dodgers and Astros are the best teams, with the Twins and Brewers playing great ball. Don't count out the Braves or Cubs. Since my son, Tommy, lives in the Twin Cities, I've started rooting for Rocco Baldelli's Bunch.

            Please send news to tomp@oaba.org, or call 615 280-7257.

Have all great days, and God Bless!

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