Circus days relished

PAT FRIDGEN
Leotards and clown suits aside, past members of the Kaley Circus shared memories of their high school performances during a Reminiscing hour. Pictured from left: Bill Guenon, Ed Baumgardner, Lorraine (Warren) Hess, Jim Stenger, moderator Greg Hoover, Janice (Warren) Bartles, Kay (Smith) Boward, Sue (Kaley) Dietrich and Ed Smith.

The sanctuary of Evangelical Lutheran Church rolled with laughter Aug. 2 as former members of The Kaley Circus reminisced about their glory days as high school performers. The circus, under the direction of gym teacher Fred Kaley, ran from 1947 to 1959, attracting devoted students, and entertaining receptive audiences each spring.

Chair Janice Bartles assured everyone that at the reunion the next day, "There will be NO performance."

The stunts the group learned as teenagers, they couldn't imagine doing today. Jim Stenger recounted balancing a chair on four Coke bottles, then doing a handstand on it. A pal would take away one bottle and he'd remain in place. "Every dang picture I have of me is upside down," he complained.

Lorraine Hess's favorite acts were the revolving and swinging ladders. Like everyone else, she tried many skillsets before choosing the ones to perfect.

"Everyone helped everyone else," she remembered. "Mr. Kaley strictly enforced using spotters, too."

A few injuries occurred. Bartles got welts on her neck from a spinning rope trick, so it was discontinued. Her brother hurt his back and still suffers, but generally the youths came through their circus years unscathed.

Ed Baumgardner still had his high wire uniform, but couldn't believe how small it was.

The circus alumni have tried to track down Kaley's thesis for his master's degree. He wrote about the circus, which evolved from a Gym Club. The show was called a circus because it had a trapeze, tumblers and clowns, but no animals.

Kay Boward became enthralled with the whole concept watching her older brother at rehearsals. "He was jumping higher and higher and all of a sudden he disappeared above the valance," she said, so amazed at the time. "I couldn't figure out where he went. Then he came down, apparently from a bar up there." When of age, she joined the circus too.

Ed Smith had one explanation for the success of the activity. "We didn't have television. People were looking for things to do."

Everyone was thankful for the experience. "Fred gave us confidence," said Bill Guenon. "He had more confidence in us than we did."