A natural at show business, Joy Fleenor danced through life

Joy Fleenor, 88, of Tampa 
was a former hula dancer 
and businesswoman.
Joy Fleenor, 88, of Tampa was a former hula dancer and businesswoman.
Published March 11, 2012

TAMPA — It didn't take people long to figure out Joy Fleenor was different.

From the age of 4, she traveled around the country, dancing hula and performing with her parents in Royal American Shows.

When she became an adult, she managed and produced her own variety acts. She later turned her talents into an entertainment venture.

And she did it when it was more popular for women to be running a household than a business.

"She was quite the lady, quite the woman," said Carol Cube, 70, of Pinellas Park, Mrs. Fleenor's sister-in-law. "She was able to maintain the children and run her own business. … She was remarkable."

Mrs. Fleenor died of cancer on Feb. 25. She was 88.

Those who knew her said she relished life as a performer.

She was born in 1923 in Whitefish, Mont., the daughter of a Filipino father and a Norwegian mother. Her parents, entertainers themselves, noticed early on she easily caught on to dancing.

They put her in their Hawaiian review show.

By her 20s, she had been all over the country. Later, she spent three months in Japan, entertaining troops for the USO.

While dancing in a club in St. Petersburg in the 1940s, she met Bob Purvis, a local businessman who later caught the showbiz bug, too. The couple married and had two girls and a boy — Linda, Bobbie and Rick.

Mrs. Fleenor wasn't content to settle very long.

The couple went back on the road, doing shows featuring dancing girls. Mrs. Fleenor not only managed the shows but also trained and choreographed the girls and sewed all their costumes and elaborate headdresses.

She divorced in 1960. A few years later, she met and married Dan Fleenor, who ran an auto thrill show called "Fleenor's Hurricane Hell Drivers."

Mrs. Fleenor never graduated from high school, but had a knack for numbers and negotiating.

And even though she stood out wherever she went, Mrs. Fleenor was always more focused on business than her looks.

"She was that beautiful. She was so exotic," said her eldest daughter, Linda Bennett, 69, of St. Petersburg. "But if I have any sense of business, it was because of her."

Back home, she became president of the Greater Tampa Showmen's Association, Ladies Auxiliary. After Mr. Fleenor's death in 1989, she kept running the family business, Fleenor Production Co., producing shows and county fairs across the nation.

Mrs. Fleenor didn't give the lifestyle up until a few years ago, her family said, when her health began to decline.

"She really missed the road," Bennett said. "She loved life. Whatever it had to throw her way, she really, really went after it. … As my girlfriend said, she was liberated before it was fashionable."