Ray Genter was born on April 28, 1935 in Ludington, Michigan, and grew up across the street from the local fairgrounds. As a child, Ray became ill from drinking some pink lemonade at a carnival one night and since then has been fascinated with carnivals. He helped when the carnivals came to town. Ray preferred working in the cookhouse, but also helped set up the merry-go-round, ferris wheel, and even fed the elephants.
As an adult, Ray married his first wife. He attended model builders’ conventions. He later married Sharon Genter with whom he attended circuses and carnivals. Beginning about 1970, Ray began purchasing carnival equipment and rides. He purchased his first carnival ride, a King Combination, from a man with an amusement park, Deer Park, later Michigan Adventure. A train ride and additional rides soon followed. This was done under the business banner of Genter Bros. Shows and Rides, Inc.
Soon, with his son, Rick, Ray owned and operated a small carnival, from 1980 through 1986, under the name Great Lakes Amusements Co., Inc. Their route included the center of the state, mostly small town celebrations, including Greenville’s Danish Festival, Red Flannel Days, Lakeview, Six Lakes, Muskegon and North Muskegon, among others. Ray also helped booked carnivals, went out with the Lee Elliott Shows, and loaned carnivals when they needed money. There is, regrettably, no documentation of these activities in the collection. The Genters employed local teens who had a B average or better in their carnival. They had strict rules about appearances and demanded access to showers for their crew. As a smaller operation with mainly older rides, they cut corners where they could to survive.
While operating the carnival, Ray and Sharon and their family also simultaneously owned and operated Flowers by Ray and Sharon. In 2010, they were named as one of the top 200 florists in the U.S. They have owned and operated their floral business for over 40 years, and in 2010 owned stores located in North Muskegon, Muskegon Township and Norton Shores.
In 1987 with insurance costs rising, and being pulled between the two businesses, the Genters stopped operating the carnival and sold off their equipment.
For fun, Ray began creating a miniature carnival in 1985. It included 127 rides, 74 shows, 275 concession stands, and about 15, 000 miniature pieces. The miniature display was donated in 2009 to the International Independent Showman’s Museum in Gibsonton, Florida, where it will be displayed in the future. He also collected an extensive collection of thousands of posters and circus and carnival books, pamphlets, dime novels, and other collectibles, many of which were sold in 2010. Ray remains actively interested and involved in carnivals and circus history and organizations.
In 2010 Ray and Sharon lived in White Hall, Michigan. They are lovely people. (This information is from an interview Marian Matyn conducted with Ray and Sharon Genter on October 26, 2009, and an article about Ray’s miniature carnival entitled, “It’s the little things…”, in the Muskegon Chronicle, October 12, 2009.)