Just days before the PNE is set to begin for another summer, fair food legend “Hunky” Bill Konyk has died, according to a PNE statement. He was 88.
“Bill passed away peacefully last night, surrounded by his family,” a media release stated Wednesday morning (Aug. 14).
“It is with incredible sadness that the Pacific National Exhibition acknowledges the passing of the one of one of our longest standing concessionaires and iconic members of our Fair family, Bill Konyk, known across the Canadian fair industry as Hunky Bill.”
The Winnipeg-born Konyk was “a beloved member of the extended PNE family for 52 years, beginning, as the legend has it, when the then Vancouver based radio executive bet a friend $10 that he could get a booth at the PNE to sell his homemade Ukrainian style perogies.
“The story goes that Bill showed up at the PNE administration office and spent an hour and a half convincing the then head of the PNE booth sales department to give him a chance. Konyk got his booth, won his $10 and began a 52-year journey during which time Hunky Bill has become one of the most iconic pitchmen and restaurateurs in Canadian history.”
Many years ago, as a freelance sports reporter, Konyk met and interviewed many sports celebrities including Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel, Bobby Hull, Yogi Berra and Ted Williams. “Casey Stengel called him the Crazy Canuck after watching him consume his favorite beverage – beer,” says a post at hunkybills.com/history.
By 1967, Konyk worked as general manager of the CFUN radio station in Vancouver, at a time when he also imported Ukrainian food from Winnipeg.
The family-operated Hunky Bill’s business has spanned three generations, according to PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance.
The food stand has been a fixture at events across the province, including Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair.
“Bill’s loving wife Kay and three sons Bill Jr., Clayton, and Mark will continue on the tradition of serving the best Ukrainian food in the city.
“Hunky Bill will be incredibly missed by his many friends and family across Canada, including all those in his PNE Fair family.”