One of the quotes on the letterhead of the annual Christmas Blessing of Father John Vakulskas, The Carny Priest, comes from Mother Theresa, and in my humble opinion, applies to all of us.
It says, “I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.” He has more faith than we do.
I think of some of my friends in the business with illnesses who have been in my prayers. Running Bear, whose real name I don't even know, has been hospitalized for more than a year or two. Luckily, people such as food concessionaires Larry and Gala Habeck visit him and try to keep his spirits up. He drove trucks for various carnivals and his smile was infectious when I used to see him at the Gibtown Showmen's Club or Showtown USA Bar.
Often through my wife, Christine’s efforts on Facebook, I'd hear of hospitalizations or afflictions. There were Ivan Arnold, Shari Bolin, Alan Larkee, Kal Hamilton, Larry (Kadoty) Neuikirk, Bobby McKnight, David Starkey, Harold Case, Art Pokorny, Ray Hrudka, Janice Lane, Loretta Aldrich, Bette Reithoffer, Habeck himself, not to mention Nashville buddies Ed Paschal and Eddie Bryan, or the loss of such icons as Johnny Hobbs, Terry Schmidt, Bob Driskill, Tommy Collins, Al Embry, Marilyn Portemont, Kenny Detty, and more than I can remember, or mention. I had interviewed Detty and written a column about him the week before he died.
I have been lucky enough to know and be friends with so many wonderful people over the years, but time takes its toll, and as old friends vanish or die, new ones emerge, and life goes on.
A good example is the fact Christine and I, when we were younger and healthier, took a trip to my hometown of Scranton, Pa., every summer. We always had a blast, no matter who we spent time with.
The purpose, originally, of course, was to see the old neighborhood, family, childhood friends, and eat and drink at favorite places. I vividly remember the first time I introduced Christine to Scranton.
We were in Allentown, visiting Dorney Park which was then owned by Harris Weinstein, after the death of Bob and Sally Ott. We also saw Martin Ritter and Ed Charles, who ran the Great Allentown Fair, and were scheduled to go to Philadelphia that night to see a Phillies game, guests of the Nowlin Brothers, who had the food contract.
It dawned on me that Scranton was just 60 miles away and when I suggested a visit there, Christine was game, as she always has been.
We called two of my friends from diapers, Tom MacDonald and Charley Manley. We all went to Pete Bordi's Bar, famous for 10 cent beers, and had a few, even though the price had gone up to 15 cents.
Next was Holy Cross Catholic Church for Mass on a Saturday afternoon. Not being a Catholic, I asked Christine if she would prefer to wait at Hacky Fanning's bar, a block away. It was probably the easiest choice she ever made in her entire Church of Christ life.
After more drinks with Hacky, a guy more colorful than Johnny Campi, Honest John (The Peddler) Curtis, Dapper Danny Royal, or Earl (Louisville Junior) Scheler, we showed her West Scranton High School where we had all matriculated, and then it was off to Arcaro's, our favorite pizza place in all the world. It was known as Tomeo's when we were kids, but it was the same family of Frank and Sally Arcaro who own it now. My surprise 80th birthday party was held there, since my kids and wife knew it was my favorite place. In the small world department, Sally and her brother, Bruce Williams, grew up around Skerbeck Entertainment and Bill Hames Shows, which was then owned by Buster Brown. Her brother, Gehrie Aten, owned Bill Hames until he and his wife, Norma retired. Now called Carnival Americana, it is owned by the Aten's daughter, Norma, and her husband, Alan Cockerham. Aten and Cockerham often kidded me that Sally got her picture in AB more than they did.
More drinks and pizza followed and after just four hours, it was time for us to head to Philadelphia, 120 miles away. Even though I'm a huge Phillies fan, needless to say, we missed the game.
Most people assumed that with the passing of MacDonald, Manley, Fanning, and two incredible friends who were in their 80s, Romayne Hufford and Jimmy Laybourn, our visits would stop, but they didn't.
We started going to the Ukrainian Club, about a block away from Hacky's, and two sisters who never married, Peggy and Kathy Forster, bought and sent our membership cards every year, even when the dues went from $5 to $7. If you get the theme of this, you can see that wherever we go, we find and make new friends.
This especially held true when I was editor of Amusement Business as we visited arena, fair, amusement park, sports, talent buyers, and other conventions. The real friends stay friends forever, and I have always preached that whether you're hanging out in a bar room or board room, good people find good people.
Father John, who was ordained as a Catholic Priest 50 years ago, is one of those good people, as was his predecessor, Monsignor Robert J. McCarthy of Watertown, N. Y., who I miss every day.
Father Vakulskas was honored with a celebration at the Benton County Fair, Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. Also in attendance were Father Dick Notter and Jerry Hogan, who is observing 25 years of circus ministry. Father John blessed all the rides, game and food joints of Gopher State Expositions, now owned by Randy Forcier, after the retirement of his parents, Art and Shirley. Dave Cavallaro, who sells the heaven out of cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, helped organize everything.
Among visits made this past season by Father John were the jamboree with Bill and Mary Johnson of Fantasy Amusements, in Chicago, where Richie George provided the food. Then it was on to Ottawa, where he met up with Patrick Jamieson of World's Finest Shows. “Tom, I appreciate all your support over the years. I love this ministry. I love being a priest to all God's children in the carnival business.” Father John is in his sixth year of retirement, living in Ruskin, Fla., where he continues to serve area churches, with his base being St. Ann in Ruskin. Another appropriate quote on his letterhead is from another ink stained wretch, Mark Twain (as Mike Heffron always referred to me as). It says simply, “Wrinkles should only indicate where smiles have been.” Everybody is a kid again when they visit a carnival. Keep up the great work!
Our annual Christmas card from Alfie Phillips, longtime executive with Conklin Shows in Canada, and a former OABA director, and his wife, Pam, had a poignant message, as usual. It said, “Many years ago a gentleman had a ticket for a flight from Vancouver to Boston. He missed the flight. The plane went down, no survivors. When interviewed, he said, 'Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That's why we call it the present. Enjoy each day, we're not sure about tomorrow.'” He added, “All the best.”
Dennis Carollo, who owns an iron mine attraction in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Iron Mountain, had a great message on his card. “Miss you guys. Need another party somewhere. Can't ever thank you enough for all the good times and meeting such nice and great people. “We've been all over the world with Dennis and his late father, Albert. We first met on one of Father Mac's trips and when the perspicacious peripatetic padre needed somebody to change rooms, they were the first to volunteer.
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