When Jerry Murphy is around, there are no unsung heroes. He is particularly adept at giving credit where credit is due. Family, friends and business associates are not only acknowledged for their vital contributions, but also heartily praised.
All in the Family
Cotton candy may have been as familiar to Murphy as mother's milk because he was literally born into carnival life. Back in the 1930s, Murphy's father John and mother Gladys were both working with the Art B. Thomas Shows. Jerry reminisced, "And that's where I was born."
Jerry added, "Then in 1937, my dad and mom bought their own little carnival." From there things began to really take off. The Murphy Brothers Exposition website explains that by 1944, John and Gladys purchased "the Howard Amusement Company for approximately $35,000," a price which is "about the cost of today's small rides."
The Murphys renamed their new company Tri-State Shows because it played in South Dakota (where Jerry grew up), North Dakota and Minnesota. Pretty soon, sons (and later-to-be Murphy Brothers) Jerry and Jim were "working alongside their parents, selling tickets, and helping set up the show." These childhood experiences were the seeds from which their "multi-million dollar corporation" would later grow.
Jerry attributes much of their later success to this firm family foundation. From these stalwart beginnings, he and his brother Jim later "built the business into one of the biggest shows in America." They have consistently played numerous state fairs, such as North Dakota, Iowa Nebraska and Wisconsin. Jerry recalled, "We've had 10 or 12 of them for a long, long time. But most of my big fairs we've done over 40 years - and that's a pretty good record."
As the company expanded, so have the family connections. Jerry explained, "My wife Loretta is my partner, and she's been with me almost 30 years now. My son Jono just graduated from college with an international business degree and is fluent in Spanish. My daughter Jerra is married to Gary Zaitshik of Wade Shows. My daughter-in-law Cathy handles the portable office on the midway when we travel to different spots."
Jerry emphasized, "I've been in a great business for many years. There are wonderful people in it, and I'm proud to be a part of it all." He added, "Friends are helping out friends these days."
For example, Murphy Brothers works together with Strates Shows on the St. Lucie County Fair in Florida. Strates is based in nearby Orlando. Jerry explained, "We've been blessed to be doing business with Strates for 40 years. So if he needs something for his fair, or I need something for mine, we don't have to go all those miles by ourselves." Murphy added, "You really have to cooperate today, or you couldn't be in business. A friend might put in 90% for one fair, and you might do 10%. Then the next time around, it's vice versa. Murphy added, "We also have great partners like Wade shows who works with us at the Missouri and Tulsa State Fairs, and Reed Exposition who works with us at the North Dakota and New Mexico State Fairs, and on our northern route."
Jerry extols the virtues of numerous other friends and business associates. Some of his cherished connections include Robert "Smokey" Benham (who has been with him for "many many years"), Janice White ("my administrative assistant in the permanent office in Tulsa"), Lisa Lowe (who "works with Janice in the office"), and Jeff Burrows (who is "in our business office and handles a lot").
Eat, Drink and Make Merry
Loretta Murphy's food company Fresh Connections provides some of the midway goodies. Jerry explains that "she does new foods each year." Jerry explained that the midway offers everything from "corn dogs to foot longs to pizza to barbeque." According to the website, Murphy Brothers Exposition is "capable of providing food concessions for any size midway from a local festival to a large state fair."
Enjoying scrumptious food and drink is just one way to make merry at a Murphy Brothers event. It turns out that "Everyone's a Winner!" when playing Murph-Land Games. With many of the games, patrons "receive a prize each time they play." This win-win concept helps to insure that no one will leave either empty-handed or empty-hearted. Jerry also mentioned that "Paul's Concessions out of San Antonio, Texas makes it real inviting for the public to come in andplay."
As for rides, Murphy Brothers has them all, and then some. Their company has long been "notorious for purchasing unique rides and attractions that are one of a kind in the United States." Such rides include the Comet II Roller Coaster, later sold to Wade Shows. Jerry also pointed out that "when people come to the fair, they still want to ride that Ferris wheel and that merry-go-round, those standard rides that have been around for years."
Murphy Brothers has strong ties with Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jerry Murphy stated, "I moved here in 1970, and I live here because I really love the city. It's been good for me and them - a good dual combination." This connection was strengthened by the 1971 merger of Murphy Brothers and the William T. Collins Shows. Jerry recalled, "He had the Tulsa State Fair, and we ended up buying his carnival, and with it we got that contract."
The relationship of Murphy Brothers with the Tulsa community extends far beyond the carnival business. A letter written by Mr. Reuben Davis to the Tulsa World Newspaper states: "Anytime they are asked, the Murphys are here to help. If everyone contributed to this community the way the Murphys do, Tulsa would be an amazing place to live."
Although Murphy readily admits that "you always have challenges in any year that you operate a midway," he is not one to state a problem without offering a solution. In order to survive the constant flux within the field, he advises: "You just have to change with them... you've got to work with the government and different people all the time to keep you going." Much of the change has worked out well. As Jerry mentioned, "We picked up several new fairs this year." And the beat goes on...
CLICK HERE to view photos of Murphy Brothers Exposition from 2001-2002