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Celebrating the Life of Miss Mary Panacek


By Mary Weber

Photo courtesy of

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Mary Panacek of Belle City Amusements passed away on August 30th, 2017 at the age of 92. Panacek was a 70 year member of the industry and began her life on the carnival at just 18 years old. She had retired from the road full time just a couple of years before she passed away. 

Around the time Panacek graduated from high school, WWII had begun and most men in her town had gone off to fight in the war. Panacek was asked to teach high school in the one-room schoolhouse in her tiny hometown of Huningdon, Tennessee. Panacek taught for a year and then got the opportunity to travel with a carnival and she took advantage of it. "For a woman at that time she was certainly adventurous. She had been to Memphis and been to the big city so she wanted to go out and explore the world," said her son, Charles Panacek.&nPhoto By bsp;

Once traveling with the carnival, Panacek worked in concessions on the midway; she continued to do so throughout her time working in the outdoor amusement industry. Mary Panacek met her husband, Charles Panacek Sr., and married him in 1960. At the time they got married, Charles Sr. already owned Belle City Amusements. Once they were married, Panacek continued to manage the concession part of the operation. 

Panacek's only child, Charles Jr., was born in 1963. He attended school throughout the year but would join his parents on the road during the summers. Once school was over, Charles joined the family business full time. Mary Panacek hasn't physically worked in the concessions since the late 70s; she mostly had managers keep everything on track while Panacek worked in the office. Until she retired from the road, Mary Panacek remained highly involved in the office; she worked on payroll settlements, and hiring and remained a huge part of the show.

In 1991, Charles' father, Charles Sr., and Mary's husband passed away and Mary and Charles continued to run Belle City Amusements together. Charles took on the roll of President of the company once his father died and Mary served as his Vice President. When Charles' father passed away, Belle City Amusements had about 30 rides and a well established South East route. In addition, Belle City Amusements would play a route in Wisconsin during the summers until about 1989. 

In 2008, Charles Panacek purchased Bluegrass Shows from Jim Murphy; Belle City Amusements grew to about 50 rides and a larger route which had the show going father North and acquiring larger events. Working side by side with his mother allowed Charles to have a really great relationship with her. "We had a very good relationship both in business and in general. I always enjoyed working with her. She was just a pleasant person to be around," says Panacek. 

Mary Panacek also got to spend a lot of time with her grandchildren, Zachary and Charlotte, who also joined the show full time after school. According to Charles, his mother was extremely involved as Vice President of the company. She attended all industry conventions, and had close relationships with fair board members. 

Mary Panacek was certainly proud of her third generation family show. Belle City Amusements is celebrating its 70th anniversary as a corporation next year. Panacek passed away on August 30th, 2017 and is survived by her son: Charles, grandchildren: Zachary and Charlotte, and great-grandchildren: Zachary, Logan, Ava, Pristany, Joleea, and Joseph.

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