At the Outdoor Amusement Business Association's (OABA) 51st Annual Meeting held last month, the history of the industry was again made a present day reality with the induction of three industry leaders into the OABA Hall of Fame, and one recipient received the Industry Pioneer Award.
Since 2001, a total of 53 men and women have been honored by their peers through the OABA Hall of Fame (HOF) and Pioneer Awards.
The organization feels that it's not enough to know the history of the outdoor amusement industry, but to celebrate that history, then share it with the rest of the world. "It is important that as the largest industry association, that the OABA recognize achievements," said Robert W. Johnson, President, Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Inc.
The HOF inductees and Pioneer Award recipients receive recognition at the Showmen's Museum, with a new interactive exhibit. "The technology uses a touch screen, and it promotes our pioneers and Hall of Fame recipients and gives a great historical perspective on the roles of these individuals in our history," said Johnson.
There are older Hall of Fames in the Fair Industry. Not counting state and regional organizations, the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE) began its Hall of Fame in 1956 and the Showmen's League has had its Hall for about a century. The OABA HOF started in 2001 - the Pioneer Award is even newer, 2009 - making this organization the relative new kid on the block when it comes to honoring industry leaders. The significant difference is that while those other organizations have a broader focus, the OABA concentrates on actual achievements of the ranks within the Mobile Amusement Industry.
"We wanted to look at the innovators and pioneers who made the rides and midway possible in the fair industry. Their achievements brought people to the fairs and filled the grandstands, and made the industry more prosperous."
Johnson said that the OABA needed to have its own HOF because "We always talked about our history, but we wanted to make sure we were maintaining and recording that history.
The nomination process for both awards is three fold, beginning with nomination forms made available in in July of each year to all OABA members and any one else in the mobile and outdoor amusement industry.
The applications are reviewed and voted in October, by the Historical and Hall of Fame Committee of the OABA, then they make recommendations for inductees to the OABA Board, who is in charge of making the final decision. A name can stay in nomination for five years. Typically, three or four OABA members are inducted into the Hall of Fame, unlike other organizations with similar honors, such as the IAFE, which only inducts one HOF member annually. The announcement is made at the award night of the IAFE annual Convention & Trade Show, surprising the inductee.
"Our philosophy is different, and we notify the inductees ahead of time so they can have their family and have prepared speeches and remarks," said John Hanschen, President of Thomas Carnival Inc. and an OABA Trustee and past-chairman of the OABA. Hanschen has been on the Historical and Hall of Fame Committee since its inception.
Auto-Thrill Shows were honored when the OABA bestowed its Industry Pioneer recognition to Joie Chitwood, highlighting his lifetime achievements as one of the leaders in this segment of the outdoor entertainment industry. The Chitwood name and family are famous throughout fair circuits in the U.S., especially east of the Mississippi, for filling grandstands with his spectacular, dare devil "Hell Cat" drivers. His son, Joie Jr. and his grandson, Joie III, accepted on behalf of the late Chitwood, the thrill show's founder.
"His auto-thrill shows really helped the carnival because they were so well attended and performed," Hanschen explained.
Before Chitwood he said, the auto shows tended to be less professional affairs, starting on time and running late, often with no end time specified. "He kept the show on time and knew how to market them," said Hanschen. "It was better for the carnival companies, because you want to be start the food sales and have a flow of people through the midway as the grandstands let out."
Hanschen credits Chitwood's Auto-Thrill Shows with making auto sports, which now include motocross, demolition derbies and other "extreme" vehicular spectacles, an established part of fair entertainment and American culture. "He made auto thrill shows a dependable business," said Hanschen. "In today's market as headline entertainment costs continue to rise and fairs are looking for entertainment alternatives to fill grand stands, the auto thrill show is regaining popularity."
In addition, Hanschen noted an interesting lineage connecting the fair business with the automotive racing industry. Joie Chitwood III - who was on hand for his grandfather being awarded Industry Pioneer - is the current president of Daytona Speedway Association, one of the largest association of its kind in the racing industry.
The OABA's Hall of Fame recipients included Beverly Burback, co-owner of Funtastic Shows in Portland, Oregon; Butch Netterfield, a second-generation family concessionaire, and Jimmy Drew, a second-generation showman who operates Drew Exposition, providing midways at major fairs in Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
Beverly Burback's husband and Funtastic Shows co-owner, Ron Burback, is an OABA trustee who was inducted into the OABA's Hall of Fame in 2009, making the Burback's one of the rare husband and wife teams who hold separate honors in an industry organization's Hall of Fame. But Beverly was recognized for building one of the most comprehensive and respected, ongoing safety seminars for ride supervisors and ride attendants in North America, the Northwest Showmen's Safety Seminar. Now in its 36th year, this seminar draws hundreds of applicants every year, and is aligned with Portland Community College for accreditation in their Continuing Education Program, providing 4 CEU's for participation and completion of the annual seminar.
According to Hanschen, Beverly Burback first gained experience working the Texas State Fair, and managed the games a the Seattle Word's Fair in 1962. Funtastic Shows is a regional powerhouse in the Northwest, known especially for the strength of its game business, the OABA recognition was mainly for her innovative prioritization of safety.
"She realized that ride safety training had to be hands-on and at the grass roots level," he said. "They host the seminar at the Funtastic winterquarters, and it is one of the most reasonable, and also ride operators can get their certification and first aid training.
Safety is the number one priority for all ride companies and fairs, and Beverly developed one of the best safety seminars in the industry."
In addition to the Burback family and management team being present at the OABA induction ceremony, Kent Hojem, President of the Washington State Fair and IAFE Chairman, also made remarks.
Butch Netterfield-a second-generation family concessionaire-became the first food vendor to be inducted into the OABA HOF. The Netterfield concessionaire legacy began with Butch's father's roasted peanut stand at the Coastal Carolina Fair in Charleston, South Carolina. Butch's son , Ronnie and his wife, Kim - both of whom attended the HOF induction-now operate Netterfield Concessionaires, which operates concessions at major fairs up and down the east coast.
During his acceptance speech, Butch Netterfield credited his wife, Ann, for helping to make Netterfield Concessions that vendor mainstay it has become for dozens of annual fairs.
Hanschen pointed out that Netterfield revolutionized food concessions at fairs, taking what was a disconnected, often rag-tag collection of food stands and turning it into a distinctive segment of any fair, creating what is called the Food Court concept.
He is credited with being the first to use neon lighting and contemporary signage, creating themed eating areas amid their clean and dynamic concession trailers, many now seating more than 1,000 fairgoers at any given time.
Noting the historic occasion of the first food concessionaire OABA HOF inductee, Hanschen said "Butch was truly a leader n the mobile food concession business. He brought beautiful signage and neon lighting to fair food concession areas. He made presentation of food professional, gave it a different atmosphere and now everybody does it. Food stands are brighter and taller and more professional than ever because of Butch," said Hanschen.
Netterfield's Popcorn and Lemonade has been a member of the OABA's Circle of Excellence, and Hanschen added that he "helped start this program, and this made me a better presenter of my food concessions."
Lastly, Jimmy Drew, an OABA Trustee since 1984, and a second-generation carnival operator whose Drew Exposition provides midways for fairs in Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Drew was accompanied by his wife, Evangeline, his son, Jim and his granddaughter, Karly along with his many fair friends and colleagues wanted to honor this legendary carnival owner and two-time president of the Showmen's League of America.
"This is such a famous carnival company," said Hanschen. "The company started in the 30s and 40s, like so many carnival families, who got into the show business during the Great Depression. Many of the people who worked for Jimmy stayed in the business, and started their own companies.
Recognizing him was really recognizing the roots of the mobile amusement industry."
He added, "Jimmy always said that if the rest of the country had workers as productive as carnival workers, we wouldn't have so many companies moving overseas. Our industry stands alone, we're both labor intensive and capital based because these companies require large investment and the people who invest are doing the hard work too."
All-in-all the HOF class of 2016 showed the industry's diversity, professional and ingenuity. "Congratulations to all of these well-deserving mobile amusement industry legends," said Johnson.