Tom Powell got a big surprise during November's Showmen's League of America banquet in Las Vegas.
Shortly before the Showmen's League of America's annual banquet kicked off in Las Vegas last November, carnival owners Ron Burback and Lorelei Schoendienst approached Powell, a writer for the OABA's Showtime magazine and former editor of the old Amusement Business magazine.
"They took me aside and asked me if I had a minute," Powell said. "They asked me, 'Will you accept the third chair for vice president of the Showmen's League?'
"I was in total shock," he said. "It's a tremendous honor. How could I say no? It's the greatest carnival organization in the world."
Powell, 79, is the first journalist to go through the chairs of the Showmen's League, a charitable group supporting the carnival in
dustry. It was founded in 1913 with Buffalo Bill Cody serving as its first president.
Over the past century, most presidents of the Showmen's League have had direct ties to the carnival business. Powell is an outsider in name only. He has covered the outdoor amusement industry for 40 years, starting with Amusement Business in 1972 through 2006, when the trade publication folded. His column, On the Earie, was a must-read for carnival owners, concessionaires, fair managers and other industry officials.
Soon after AB closed its doors, Powell started writing for the OABA, penning a monthly column carrying the same name, On the Earie, as his former publication. He continues writing the column today.
Through his career at AB, Powell developed close ties to the Showmen's League and on several occasions he served as master of ceremonies at the year-end banquet. In the early 1990s, Powell was emcee the year the late Hub Luehrs took over as SLA president. Schoendienst, Luehrs' daughter and a member of the Showmen's League board of governors and its nominating committee, remembered Powell's duties as the group went about filling the vacant third chair.
"We were tryng to come with people outside the box who were not show owners," Shoendienst said. "Over the years we've had suppliers and concession managers as president, and let's face it, there are fewer of us show owners out there now than there were 20 to 30 years ago."
At the cocktail party preceding the banquet, Schoendienst brought up the idea with other SLA officials and they all agreed it would be a great idea to nominate Powell. Burback, owner of Funtastic Shows, joined Schoendienst in asking Powell if he would accept the nomination, and he said yes.
Powell, with a great sense or humor and someone who has developed close relationships with many in the business, should provide a shot in the arm for the organization, according to Schoendienst.
"One thing is for sure, he will sell the banquet out," she said.
Powell is among the last of a dying breed of reporters that grew up in the golden era of newspapers when part-timers known as copy boys did everything from bringing coffee to reporters to running their completed stories from the newsroom to the composing room, the final step in the process before the printing presses rolled. After graduating from the University of Scranton in 1966 and spending two years in the Army, Powell became a copy boy, making 75 cents an hour for the Scranton (Pa.) Tribune, his hometown newspaper.
"I loved every minute of it," Powell said.
In 1958, Powell got a job with the Nashville Tennesean as a sports writer and he wrote for the paper until joining Amusement business 14 years later.
Powell is no stranger to SLA royalty. He is a member of the Showmen's League Hall of Honor as well as halls of fame for the OABA and the International Independent Showmen's Association in Gibsonton, Fla.
As third vice chair, Powell will assume the president's position in 2016, following food concessionaire Ron Porter, game operator Paul Kasin and Chris Atkins of Luehrs Ideal Rides, the group's president for 2013.