COOKEVILLE — People are more likely to remember the carnival rides or the candied apples over any people they may meet at the fair. The faces change every so often, as do the rides, but some things are constant: the husband-and-wife team of Jerry and Joanna Geren, who bring the fair to town every year; their adorable Dashchund Minnie, with her sparkly, monogrammed collar; and Joanna’s “traveling garden,” pots of flowers and vegetables that line the walkway to the Gerens’ office trailer in the middle of the Putnam County Fairgrounds.
Geren Rides is a family business in every way. The family’s affiliation with the midway began when Jerry’s father ran away from home many years ago. “He joined the carnival,” Jerry said. “A lady that had a food booth more or less took him in, fed him and gave him a place to sleep, and he did whatever it took to make ends meet.”
For years, the business has been run by Jerry and his wife, who was a dental assistant before she married her husband more than 50 years ago. “My parents said, ‘Uh-oh!’” said Joanna when asked of her parents’ reaction to marrying a midway man. “Really, they just wanted me to be happy.” “I told her, ‘We aren’t going to be like normal people, where I go one way and you go the other and we meet up later. We are going to be around each other 24 hours a day,’” Jerry said.
“He’s 75 and he’s never had another job but this, so we’ve been around for a long time,” Joanna said. “I’ve looked at him for over 50 years, and I still enjoy looking at him.” The Gerens pride themselves on running a family-friendly business, which she explained is par for the course when your own family is on the road with you the majority of the year. “Midway families tend to be real close. You’re family is right here with you,” Joanna said. “As soon as they’re old enough, they start having responsibilities. They’re taught to work. And traveling from town to town, they tend to learn real quick.”