The Los Angeles County Fair Association’s annual announcement of selected inductees into its coveted Hall of Fame is one of great anticipation. And 2009’s elite trio exponentially surpasses the definition of noteworthy achievements by outstanding individuals.
Ralph M. Hinds, LACFA president and chief executive officer from 1983 until his untimely death in 1994, and Charlene and Guy Leavitt, owners of Ray Cammack Shows carnival, will be duly honored for their vast accomplishments, leadership and commitment to excellence.
For Hinds and the Leavitts to be saluted together is fitting since they were closely linked by a strong professional relationship filled with reciprocated admiration and respect. They learned from one another and shared the same strong integrity and values in addition to a love of the industry.
Ralph Hinds was involved in every aspect of the Fair industry and gained a reputation of being a person in perpetual motion. Hinds was named general manager of the Los Angeles County Fair Association in 1978 and named president and chief executive officer in 1983, only the third paid general manager or president since the LAFCA was formed in 1922. He was at the helm of the largest county fair in North America and his leadership helped transform Fairplex from the site of just the annual fair into a viable year-round business center.
From 1981 to 1994, he spearheaded more than $74 million in improvements and renovations. Under his watch the Fair Association’s revenue grew from $6 million annually to $32 million. Attendance at the Fair topped the one million mark in each of Hinds’ years in Pomona. In 1990, he brought in Barretts Equine Limited, a state-of-the-art equine complex that conducts four prestigious annual auctions; in 1991, Fairplex Child Development Center, regarded as one of the top facilities of its kind in California; and in 1992, the Sheraton Fairplex hotel, a 247 all-suites property. Although the only fairgrounds with these amenities, a more apt description of the unique facility is a city within a city, and indeed one that stands alone among its peers.
The phenomenal success attained at Fairplex Park was power-driven by Hinds. The annual Fair’s racing meet showed the greatest on-track pari-mutuel wagering increase among leading thoroughbred tracks in North America from 1983 to 1987, rising an astonishing 52.3 percent. And there was more track to celebrate, since Hinds expanded the half-mile bullring to its current five-eighths mile oval in 1985.
Fairplex Park’s racing meet consistently ranked among the top 10 tracks in North America in handle and attendance.
He also positioned Fairplex as a premier facility for year-round business, including trade shows, consumer shows, sporting events, association meetings and more. The facility was renamed Fairplex, an umbrella for Los Angeles County Fair, hotel and exposition complex, in 1985 to more accurately describe the scope of the business conducted within its 543-acres. In 1980, he was the first Californian ever to be given Certified Fair Manager status by IAFE. Hinds was elected into the International Association of Fairs and Expositions Hall of Fame in 1993, recognizing 30 years of distinguished service to the fair industry, and exceptional accomplishments at the L.A. County Fair. The Hall of Fame induction marked the second such recognition for Hinds, who was presented with Western Fairs’ Association Hall of Fame Achievement Award in 1988. He was past president and past vice president of IAFE and past president and past director of WFA. He possessed visionary leadership, guiding Fairplex through an impressive period of progress and transition.
Hinds was also active in the community serving in a number of civic organizations and on a variety of boards, receiving numerable awards and accolades. Hinds took pride in the positive community support demonstrated for Fairplex’s facility and staff.
Ralph Hinds passed away July 30, 1994. He was survived by his wife, Diane, daughters Pamela and Deborah and grandchildren Loretta, Geoff and Nikita. A fitting tribute, Ralph’s grandson, Geoff Hinds, was named chief executive officer of the Tulare County Fair in May 2008.
One of the biggest features of any Fair is its carnival. Ralph Hinds choreographed sweeping improvements to the L.A. County Fair’s carnival area, with an emphasis on cleanliness, appearance and friendliness, and then went looking for the right carnival partner.
Charlene and Guy Leavitt brought Ray Cammack Shows carnival to the L.A. County Fair in 1985, a September date they still retain. The L.A. County Fair was RCS first contract in California. In addition to being one of the leading carnivals in the country, its owners are philanthropists, strong proponents of education, and are credited with innovative and progressive improvements within their industry, and for nearly 25 years the carnival of choice at the L.A. County Fair.
RCS presents high quality family entertainment. And family values begin at home; in this case for carnival employees and their families who travel with the show. Employees’ children are able to attend both the RCS Child Enrichment Center, fashioned after the Fair’s child development center, and its own Sunday school. An employee store, beauty salon and laundry facility all travel with the show. To support
the high standard they have set, the Leavitts require employees to undergo routine drug testing and adhere to a strict dress code. A family atmosphere is the desired environment and through the Leavitts’ visionary leadership and high expectations, a reality. As evidence to the Leavitts’commitment to education, the company also offers a college scholarship program for employees.
Guests to the carnival receive VIP treatment with ample seating, shade, wider midways and high-capacity rides to cut down on lines. RCS developed its own midway beautification program in 1985, which has become the model for the entire amusement industry. RCS ranks in the Top 10 of all carnivals and midways in North America and has a safety record second to none.
The Leavitts’ steadfastness to education and youth is partnered with action. Since 1995, the message “reading is fun” is backed by Read & Ride, a RCS program that earmarks reading and literacy. In conjunction with libraries throughout the area, children are encouraged to grab a book and then awarded with Ray Cammack Shows carnival ride coupons based on the number of books read during the summer and the book reports accompanying them. Continuing with community outreach, the carnival has generously donated toys to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and LeRoy Haynes Center. Charlene Leavitt serves on the board of the Child Development Center Foundation whose mission statement speaks to the heart of her passion – “We are a premier model, early care and education program in collaboration with the University of La Verne. Our staff and leadership are dedicated to providing the highest quality, safe, nurturing, educational environment where diverse children, families and adults come together to learn and grow. We cherish children, support families, build community among diversity, and pursue excellence in early education.”
The Leavitts are strong proponents of the Child Development Center’s annual September auction each year buying a host package in addition to munificently purchasing auction items throughout the evening. The proceeds from the event greatly benefit the 200 youngsters enro