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Family carnival

The Melendez family travels the region with City of Fun

More than 40 years ago, Lois Melendez told her husband he could go into any line of work except one — no traveling carnivals.

This was not as strange as it may sound. At the time, Lois' husband, Lou, had purchased a ride to take around to such places as Santaquin and Murray to earn a little extra money during the summer. Over the years that one ride, a speedway race track, has been added to — to the tune of $4 million. And the Melendezes' business, City of Fun, is now a full-fledged traveling carnival making the rounds throughout Utah and Arizona.

As for Lois Melendez, she now concedes that maybe the carnival business hasn't been such a bad thing after all. On June 9, Lois and Lou celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in their portable trailer next to their traveling carnival, which was in Springville for Art City Days.

The trailer is a cozy home away from home where Lois can cook for her family and Lou can keep an eye on everything that happens at their carnival. Lois obviously did not get her "no carnivals" wish, but she still could not be happier with the outcome, which is how close the carnival has kept her family together.

It all began 45 years ago. Lou was a Brigham Young University graduate desperately looking for a job. After answering an ad in New Jersey for a company needing a carnival manager, he got the job, and Lou Melendez was unknowingly on his way to a new career and a new way of life for his family.

The business is — and has been for quite some time — very much a family affair. Lou and Lois' daughter, Pam Zoeller, who is the company's general manager, remembers growing up with the carnival. "Mom and Dad used to put us in bed at 8 so we would lay there and watch the people at the carnival from the window," Zoeller said.

Somewhere along the way, the candied apples and cotton candy got into Zoeller's veins, and she decided to take up the family business as well.

But Zoeller isn't the only member of the family to follow suit. Her husband, Jim, fixes the rides, brother Brad Melendez refurbishes the rides, Brad's wife helps sell tickets and sister Teresa Bissegger runs the candied apple wagon — not to mention all the grandchildren who help with various small jobs.

"We're really close and like each other a lot," said Zoeller about her family. "As we kept on working, we all started to gravitate toward different kinds of jobs, and we ended up each fitting in a different niche within the business."

While they were growing up, the kids started working for the carnival at a young age, just picking up papers, then slowly graduated to bigger and better jobs. Zoeller said her parents always paid them for the work they did and helped them develop a good work ethic, while they learned about saving money.

Zoeller said they stay busy for 40 weeks every year, from March all the way through Thanksgiving. Still, with so much time on the road, Lois Melendez said she was always determined to give her children a normal life. "So many people think the traveling lifestyle would hurt the children, but I always made sure the children went to school and church and that they had a home to come to after school."

Although many say business and family don't mix, the Melendez family has set their own formula to make it work. "Sure, we argue sometimes like any family, but we don't let that interfere with the business," Pam Zoeller said. "You can't let hurt feelings get in the way."

Lou Melendez agrees, interjecting, "If you commit to something, you do it no matter what."

Perhaps the closest working relationship is that of Lou and Lois. "We work all day together, and then we're together after work — we're together 24 hours a day," Lou Melendez said. "It just takes a lot of love and cooperation."

The business is making a smooth transition from the first to the second generation, and there's little doubt what the future holds for the Melendez family, says Lois. "We already have a grandchild who has told us that this is what he wants to do with his future."

E-mail: pthunell@desnews.com