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Geren Legacy: Faith, Family, Friends

11/17/2014

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of

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Whoever says that chivalry is dead has never met the Geren family.  Their four generations of carnival journeys have proven that home is not necessarily a fixed location, but can instead be found wherever faith, family and friends are.

After Jerry H. Geren's sudden death on October 8th of this year, family members Joanna Geren (wife), Glenn and Diane Geren (son and daughter-in-law), and Hilary Geren (granddaughter) were left with a giant void in their lives, and with giant shoes to fill.  Fortunately, Jerry had  also left them with giant shoulders to stand upon.

Faith
It was many years ago that William Robert ("W. R.") Geren, Jerry's father, took a mighty leap  of faith.  Glenn Geren reminisced, "My grandfather was orphanPhoto By ed at the age of 12.  He and his brother were living on the family farm when the orphanage came to get him."

A less-enterprising young man might have been sheepishly taken against his will.  Not Jerry's father...  W. R. instead "ran through the cornfield to get away," then afterwards "came across  the traveling carnival."

Glenn noted that W. R. "went to work for a family that had an Indiana-style cookhouse, making 21 meals and 50 cents per week.  He went on from that humble beginning to have one of the largest carnivals in the Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Tennessee area."  

"W. R. had several different names for his carnival over the years.  One of them was Bill Geren Shows (his name was William, but everyone called him Bill).  Upon moving to Greensburg, Indiana, he renamed it the The Mighty Hoosier State Shows."

Glenn added, "W. R. stayed in Indiana until about 1965.  His good friend, Johnny Keefe from  Capital City Shows, lived in Valdosta, Georgia and talked my Granddaddy into setting up his winter quarters there.  We moved to Georgia about that time, and we've been there ever since."

"After we moved, my grandfather dropped the "Mighty Hoosier State" name and just went to W. R. Geren Rides.  It remained W. R. Geren Rides until he died of lung cancer in 1969."

Glenn concluded, "W. R. also ran traveling bowling alleys.  He had a limp all of his life from  an accident on a Motordrome.  He did about everything you could think of coming up in the carnival.  He'd get out and really hustle to make a dollar."

W. R. passed on a great deal of confidence to his son Jerry, who in turn displayed a quiet type  of faith that could move mountains.  Glenn described his father Jerry in this manner:  "Daddy was of the Methodist faith and was very soft-spoken and spiritual.  He had a very strong code of ethics about doing the right thing."

"I never knew my Daddy to ever lift a hand to my mother, and there was never any alcohol in our house.  People tend to stereotype carnival folks and think they're just rough-and-ready boozers, but I never saw my Mom or Daddy take a drop of alcohol."

Glenn continued, "So we've always been a low-key type of family.  We don't have a lot of drama, and we're all very close.  That's been the greatest blessing in my life."

Family
Although Glenn did not have all the details about how his grandfather, William Robert Geren, and his grandmother, Jessie Lee Roe Geren, first met, Glenn did have plenty of heartwarming stories to relate about the great love between his parents. Jerry and Joanna Geren.

Glenn began with these words:  "My Mom said that the first time she laid eyes on my Daddy, she was done.  After they first met, Daddy was drafted into the army.  When he got back out of the army, they got back together, got married, and were together ever since."  ("Ever since" being more than half a century...)

Many an article has been written about the love that Jerry and Joanna shared.  In July 2008, Tamara Henderson of Alabama's Gadsden Times wrote these words:  "The Gerens met in the early 1950s when Joanna was just a sophomore in high school.  When she saw Jerry at the carnival in her town, it was love at first sight."
"I never thought I would do anything like (travel with a carnival)," Joanna told Henderson.  "He [Jerry] was running the tilt-o-whirl, and I just thought he was the cutest thing.  I rode that thing a whole lot of times!"

In December 2008, Frenchi Jones of Georgia's Coastal Courier asked Joanna what it was like to transition into the carnival world.  "It was sort of a culture shock.  You go from living in a house to living in much smaller quarters with no running water," Joanna told Jones.

During this same interview, Jerry added, "There have been some hard times.  There are hard times in every business, but our love of family and our faith in God has always got us through."

Loving Memories
It is clear from memories communicated by family and friends just how beloved Jerry has always been.

Larry Moyers of Superior Equipment Services LLC recently extolled Jerry's character and achievements.  He stated, "Jerry was a quiet gentleman who really helped to build this carnival industry."

Lisa L. McNair of McNair Amusements expressed these heartfelt feelings:  "I can only smile when I hear the Geren name.  For the longest time I thought that Jerry was really my Uncle ‘cause he and my Daddy had the same interest, same type of business... each put family first... each had a Christian foundation, Jerry was a great teacher for my Daddy... we have been competitors for many years, always promised to never step on the other's toes, never to steal help or location, that tradition has lasted for over 45 years."    

Granddaughter Hilary, who has taken on many Geren Rides management responsibilities, added: "He [Jerry] was the first person brave enough to take me out driving when I got my CDL permit...  He was still on the road, doing what he loved, on the day that he passed away."

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