Carnival business icon JoAnn Davis passes

By | December 18, 2018

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — JoAnn Delores Davis, of Rancho Mirage, CA passed away on 12/6 following a fall while on vacation with family in Hawaii. JoAnn was 82 years old. She was preceded in death by her husband of 52 years Larry Davis in 2004 and is survived by her beloved daughter, Debby (Davis) Helm and her husband Dave, of Redlands, and son Tommy Davis and his wife Sharie of Fontana. JoAnn was blessed to have five grown grandchildren, Davey, Jason, Thomas, Larry and Erin all of whom lived nearby and saw her often in her later years. In addition JoAnn is survived by seven great grandchildren.

Born JoAnn Delores Weiss, in Butte, Montana on November 3, 1936. Her destiny was fulfilled early in her life as she met and married her life long love Larry Davis of San Francisco on April 21, 1952 in San Francisco. Larry an aspiring golf pro and JoAnn a savvy and beautiful young women jumped into the outdoor amusement business with both feet in 1958, and never looked back. In the early years of their marriage their lives revolved around building the Carnival. Indeed, Carnival Time Shows, Inc. became the largest most impressive travelling Carnival on the West Coast. Together they charted a course that saw their unique business holding contracts at every major State and County Fair in California. Including the California State Fair for 19 years, the Orange County Fair, Sonoma County Fair, their hometown Fair, the Kern County Fair and many many more.

JoAnn was the person behind the growth and success of Carnival Time Shows, she controlled the checkbook and ran the office ensuring that their plans, dreams and strategies could be funded and implemented. Her ability to save, manage and stretch a dollar were crucial in the early years. Later as the business was humming along her interest in philanthropy came to the forefront. When Larry and JoAnn moved to Rancho Mirage in 1982 they immediately assimilated into the community of like- minded philanthropists. Always the avid golfers many friendships were forged on the golf course and with unique tales of life on the road with the travelling Carnival Larry and JoAnn became fixtures in the social scene in the desert.

In 1998 Larry and JoAnn had had enough of the road and decided to retire. Few Carnival owners have ever successfully pulled off such a feat. Most went bankrupt, died or lost it all over time. But because of JoAnn and her skills in the office they were able to turn those years of back breaking hard work into a comfortable retirement. Even in retirement though neither completely stopped working. In fact, their passion and dedication to conceive, plan, fund and build the West Coast Tribute at Expo Park on the grounds at the California State Fair, an ongoing living permanent memorial to the hero’s, innocent victims and their families, commemorating the 9/11 attacks on our country may be the most unselfish and important part of Larry and JoAnn’s legacy.

Throughout their years as owners and operators the business they built together from scratch, Larry and JoAnn were honored by and participated in virtually all of the fair and outdoor amusement industry organizations and associations. Joann was inducted into the Showmen’s League of America’s Hall of Honor in 2010. She held leadership and officer positions in the Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association, the Ladies Auxiliary of the SLA, San Francisco Showmen’s Association, The Royal Hawaiian Showmens Club and many others. She was the first woman allowed into the Showmen’s League of America. Always a doer, it was hard to say no to JoAnn when she asked for help with a project or charity. It is estimated that throughout her life she raised millions of dollars and most likely contributed an equal amount of her own.

To say that JoAnn was an icon in the world of Showman and the outdoor amusement business would be an understatement. Always impeccably dressed she carried herself with the elegance and grace of a former beauty queen with a splash of grand Hollywood glamour. And in true Hollywood fashion JoAnn and Larry were honored with a spot between Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

When her beloved husband of 52 years passed in 2004, JoAnn became an avid traveler. She traveled extensively around the world right up to her death. Making friends all over the world JoAnn was rarely still and always looking ahead to her next adventure.

Aside from her participation in industry groups JoAnn busied herself by diving head first into charities and social organizations in the Palm Springs Valley. She was a founding member of the McCallum Theater and current member of the Theater Board of Trustees. JoAnn rarely missed a performance and believed deeply in arts and education she gave her time and money to The Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs Art Museum, Friends of the Philharmonic, The Virginia Waring International Piano Competition , The Desert Symphony, The Steinway Society, Palm Springs Opera Guild, The Barbara Sinatra Center, Angelview, Loving all Animals, Guide Dogs of the Desert, The Living Desert, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs and many more. Someone once said of JoAnn’s charitable giving, “If it’s possible to give to charities more money then you have and still have some left over, JoAnn could find a way to do it!” 

An icon in the Carnival business, a legacy of giving, a lasting tribute to a national tragedy, a loving mother, grandmother and great grandmother and most of all a devoted and loving wife and partner, JoAnn joined her lifelong love for an everlasting last dance. Godspeed.

A mass will be held on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, at 11:00 am at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 43774 Deep Canyon Rd. in Palm Desert. A Celebration of Life will follow at 12:30 pm at Acqua in Rancho Mirage on Hwy 111.