Deggeller Attractions has come full circle. The Stuart, Fla. carnival has formed a new traveling school for its employees' children, more than 20 years after the original Deggeller Midway Academy taught members of the Deggeller family.
At that time, Andy Deggeller and his sister, Heidi Deggeller-Elsperman, the son and daughter of show owners Don and Kathy Deggeller, were among the students attending the original school. As the years went by, however, the school was dissolved because there were no school-age children traveling with the carnival, Elsperman said.
That all changed in 2015 after the Deggeller kids grew up and had children of their own. For "Deggeller Midway Academy 2.0," as Elsperman describes it, there will be five to 10 students, including Heidi's three children and one of Andy's two kids.
The daughter of Rob Myers, a new concessionaire and independent ride operator with Deggeller, and his significant other, Alieta Hopp, will also be attending the school.
The academy's full-time instructor, Larry Knight, is a former truck driver and a Navy veteran who taught middle school in Florida and has a solid foundation in mathematics, a subject important to forming the curriculum for the school approved by the state of Florida, Elsperman said.
The show will pay Knight's wages, supply the books and other materials required for instruction and provide a house trailer for the teacher. The school itself will take place in a converted living quarters. It will be similar to the layout of the original school with the exception of the computers now common in schools, she said.
The school will run Wednesday through Sunday and be divided into sessions depending on age groups. For the most part, elementary and middle school age children will attend class from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Preschool and kindergarten age kids will be taught separately, Elsperman said.
The season kicked off in early February at the Martin County Fair in Deggeller's hometown. Separately, Deggeller Food Service, a show-owned company, has already been out on the road. In late January, it ran five concessions stands at the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach.
In March, the food operation will be booked at the Dade County Youth Fair in Miami. David Campbell, a longtime Deggeller employee, runs the independent food firm.
The new academy is the biggest news for the show entering its 36th year of business. But the show has made some noteworthy ride acquisitions recently, starting with an SDC Hang Ten, a major piece similar to a Flying Bobs but with no top, she said. The same ride company made Deggeller's roller coaster.
The Hang Ten made its debut at the 2014 Maryland State Fair in Timonium. It may be classified as a spectacular attraction due to its size and speed but the 42-inch height requirement makes it a good ride for families to enjoy, Elsperman said. Its high ride capacity of 64 with 32 two-person tubs, another plus, she said.
In addition, Deggeller Attractions bought a new Cliffhanger from Battech complete with an LED light package. It was delivered in November. The carnival used to have a Cliffhanger but it was moved to another show through the Deggeller family, she said.
Also late last season, the Deggellers purchased an Enterprise from the James H. Drew Exposition, one of two rides of the same name that were owned by show owner Jimmy Drew. Deggeller then featured its Enterprise at the Arkansas State Fair. It's one of Elsperman's personal favorites because it reminds her of the smaller version called the Galactica once owned by her late grandfather, Allen Deggeller.
The show also bought two new Zamperla kiddie rides, a Happy Swing and a Baja Buggy, also known as a "jump-around," Elsperman said.
At the IISF trade show in Gibtown, Deggeller purchased a new Fire Ball / Afterburner from KMG. A delivery date has not yet been announced.
Deggeller's route remains stable for 2015. Last year, the carnival picked up the Bradford County Fair in Starke, Fla. and a peanut festival in Elizabeth City, N.C.
The State Fair of Virginia, a Deggeller mainstay for more than 30 years, got a shot in the arm after Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe was hired as the event's new manager. She came from the State Fair of West Virginia where she spent the last 25 years. Two years ago, she held the position of chairman for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.
Pierson-Joliffe takes over at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va. more than three years after the state fair filed for bankruptcy at its old location, the Richmond International Speedway. By comparison, the newer site, a 300-acre property off the same exit as Kings Dominion theme park off of I-95, is "breathtaking, a gorgeous piece of property," Elsperman said. The Virginia Farm Bureau now runs the state fair.
"They bus people in from Richmond where the fair used to be," she said. "They're making it work. It took a couple years but they're getting back to the old location's numbers."
There will be no increase in ticket prices for 2015. The show has a Twelve Buck Tuesday unlimited ride special to boost midway traffic midweek and does advance sales through Walgreens stores. Saturday armbands are $17 to $20 for county fairs and $20 to $25 for state fairs.
"We work well with fairs and believe in a true partnership," Elsperman said. "We listen to each other and pay attention to the demographics and what people can afford. Keeping that in mid, we tend to cautiously raise our prices."
The Maryland and Arkansas state fairs went well for Deggeller in 2014 although there was some bad weather in Timonium, Elsperman said.
Deggeller officials tend to look at fairs over a five-year period and by that measuring stick, those two events were right on par with past runs.
The 2013 Arkansas State Fair was a record year so it was tough to top that performance, she said. Deggeller ran several weekday promotions to build attendance apart from the weekends.
Andy and Heidi now primarily run the carnival with assistance from their parents. Andy's wife Jamie works the show office. She's the daughter of veteran game concessionaire Candy Anderson and has a strong history in the carnival business. Heidi's husband, Cliff Elpserman, is head electrician.
"My parents are still around and they'll always be with us," Heidi said. "But they're content to be on the road a little less now so they can spend time with their grandkids and enjoy life."
For several years, Deggeller Attractions has used international workers from Mexico and South Africa. Last year, for the first time, the show had its South African workforce try its hand at ride operations and it worked well, she said. In the past, those workers had concentrated on games and food due to the English language barrier faced by some Mexican nationals. The blending of those workers on the midway provides greater flexibility overall, Elsperman said.
Overall, "our industry is certainly becoming more regulated because of the way things are with the government," she said. "It's tough ... but we're resilient. My brother is on the board of the OABA and we're helping to fight these issues."