I usually make a phone call to Tony Diaz of North American Midway Entertainment this time of year to check on the show's opening date in Canada, the June 5-9 Brandon, Manitoba, Summer Fair, but on this occasion the tone was more somber, as I had just learned about the death of Diaz's mother, Mary Jane.
They say things like this happen in threes, and if that's true, Kenny Detty passed away from a heart attack shortly after I interviewed him after Memorial Day. Then I learned about the passing of Reverend Ruth Turton, 87, whose late husband, Reverend Ron Turton, was The Heavenly Patch.
Diaz was already at the show's next spot, the Red River Exhibition in Winnipeg, scheduled for June 14-23, where Garth Rogerson has been CEO for 11 years. Tony said his sister, Trudie Andrews had flown to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where Mary Jane, 83, had been living, to have her body moved to Tampa. The funeral is tentatively set for Saturday, June 15 at Showmen's Rest in Tampa. Mary Jane was a longtime member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Greater Tampa Showmen's Association.
Mary Jane and her late husband, Tony, were married in 1955. They spent the time between 1955 and 1960 on Carl and Egle Sedlmayr's Royal American Shows, where Tony Sr. was a games operator. Tony Jr., 57, was born at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, which was one of the carnival's biggest spots.
The Diazes then spent several years with Sonny Myers Amusements. Myers had been the sheriff of St. Joseph, Mo., and was the brother-in-law of Bill Dillard. After that they were on Bill Dillard Shows, before joining Gehrie and Norma Aten with their games on Bill Hames Shows. At the time of his death, Tony Sr. had joined his son with Mike Williams on Farrow Shows. It was always a pleasure for me to see both Tonys at spots such as the Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis, as Tony Jr. had the savvy to know who I'd want to take a picture of for Amusement Business, in other words, regulars who traveled with the show, not locals who just came in to work one spot. He kept me from wasting a lot of time.
After he became a vice president with NAME, Diaz remained one of the most cooperative, and easiest guys to interview for a story. He doesn't embellish what he says, and always points out the key people who help move the show. That includes Wayne Kunz, John Anderson, Scooter Korek, and Michael Hupalo, the safety inspector, who invited me to his wedding in Gibtown before I even knew him.
“Life is a lot easier and happier when you find yourself working on a daily basis with people like that.” What a great group of guys. Anybody who knows Wayne Kunz will tell you he looks as though he could still play football like Bo Jackson or The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas. I first met Wayne at a date in Louisiana, I believe it was Metairie, and he was working for his dad, Al, the guy who kicked 60 Minutes off his lot. Wayne spent many years with Jim Murphy on Mighty Blue Grass Shows, before joining NAME. In his 80s, and looking fit as a fiddle, he has earned the reputation of being one of the hardest working guys in the carnival business, one of the nicest, as well. I can vouch for both traits.
While with his dad's Century 21 Shows, I visited Wayne at the Millington Naval Base near Memphis. He kept asking me what looked different about him. I guessed he had lost weight, gained weight, and everything but what the real answer was. He was wearing a wig. After my reaction, I don't believe he ever did again, although his was better than that of the Grand Ole Opry's Hank Snow, hideous.
Mary Jane maintained a close friendship with many carnival people, most notably, Marilyn Portemont, after both got off the road. Of Brandon, Diaz said it was okay except for Saturday, which is normally the biggest day, when it was cold and wet. After a strong Miami-Dade County Fair, he's optimistic.
I couldn't believe it when I received phone calls from Joel Golder who owns Palace Playland Amusement Park in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, and Tom Gaylin of Rosedale Attractions and Shows of Baltimore. Both were bearing the news of Detty's demise. Joel made me feel a little better when he said Kenny, 74, had read the column, loved it, and was grateful that I wrote it. Golder wanted to let me know that it had meant a lot to both of them and was a well-deserved tribute to a REAL carnival man. “His only regret was that he left out the name of the James H. Drew Exposition as being one being one of the carnivals he and his wife, Barbara, traveled with,” said Golder. Gaylin said Detty was always very helpful to him when he was chairman of OABA in 2016, especially in matters involving the Carnival Museum in Gibsonton, where Detty was a member of the Board. I believe Gaylin made more sincere efforts than anybody to form a better working relationship with members of the International Independent Showmen's Association than I can recall. He realizes the potential of growth there for the OABA, because I'll guarantee you, most are not OABA members, but should be.
I remember when The Heavenly Patch hung around Andy and Ethel Osak's Showtown USA Bar in Gibtown, even though he wasn't a drinker. There was a Panama City, Florida, connection among the Turtons, Osaks, Bill and Helen McCoy, Terry and Jo Ellen Erickson, and Bobby Cooper. I remember others who were hanging around what we called Andy's in those days, including Gene (Tee Shirt Kelly) Spezia, Sonny (World's Greatest Guesser) Lewis, Jolly Jim Conroy, Buster Anderson, Uncle Ben, a guy with a big beard who owned a restaurant in Cherokee, North Carolina, Foster Maples, who (he said) accidentally ran his car through the side of the Showtown bar once, and the incomparable Joe Lane.
Linda Laughridge, whose dad was Walter Meredith, who owned Walt's Lounge, recalls the McCoys and Osaks booking at Petticoat Junction, an 1880s themed western park. Jo Ellen and Walter were brother and sister, with Helen McCoy their mother, and Bill McCoy, their stepfather. Got that? Linda Laughridge and Jody Gay are cousins. They both remember the Panama City times.
A man named J. E. Churchwell owned the park. He is credited with giving the area the title of Redneck Riviera. The McCoys booked a Dark Ride, Shooting Gallery, Glass House, Scrambler, Swinging Gym, and kiddies. Bill also operated the Bumper Cars for the Churchwells. Terry (The Viking), who wound up with dozers on Lon McWhorter's Mac's Amusements, and Jo Ellen had the popper and grab joint.
Jody Gay and her husband, Harley, are now retired. She was with The James Gang Amusements of Andalusia, Alabama. Jody, one of the only non-family members on the show, traveled mostly on the unit with Wayne and Virginia, but sometimes with Rodney and Jesse James, from the early 1990s until she left the road in 2004. She kept her quarters dozers games on the show until 2006. Harley was a singer and teacher of autistic children. After being involved in a motorcycle accident, he now limits his singing to a couple gigs a month, and the church choir. He has often worked the Gibtown trade show.
When Laughridge and her late husband, Ralph moved to Destin, Florida, they bought the house next to the Turtons, who were active in Protestant ministry, and their daughters, Susan and Sandra. The Osaks and Turtons were so close that when Ethel died, Andy gave one of her treasured rings to Ruth.
When Arthur Lamkin bought Johnny's United Shows, Bill and Helen McCoy came out of retirement, and ran the popper. At one time, Grandpa, as Linda refers to Bill McCoy as, was partnered in an amusement park in The Ozarks with Bobby Cooper. Cooper went on to run the entire Bingo operation for the state of Tennessee, and I got to know him well. One of his sons, Steve, drives trucks for carnivals, including for Butch and Ronnie Netterfield, Deggeller Attractions, and Mike Thomas, his cousin on Frank Zaitshik's Wade Shows. Cooper even drove his Harley Davidson Motorcycle from Tampa to Sturgis, South Dakota, a distance of 1,998.9 miles, to scatter the ashes of one of his brothers.
I learned late last night of the death of John A. Hobbs, my friend of 61 years, who was a real showman. He was known to just about everybody in the amusement business, and folks were always coming to his bar and restaurant to see him, or calling to inquire about his health. He joined me and Christine at least 20 times at the trade show in Gibsonton, Fla. Hobbs was 91, and thank God, did not suffer. In fact, one of his sons, Ronnie, called me the night before he died to let them know what station a baseball game was on. He gave numerous stars their first breaks, including Randy Travis, Ricky Van Shelton, Lorrie Morgan, and a host of others. Umpire Joe West stopped to see him two days ago on his way to Kansas City. We went shopping every Christmas Eve for the last 50 years or so. I’m going to miss him.
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