Gamma Phi Circus’ oldest living alum, Robert Walsh ’37, is still spry at 99.
Written by: Kevin Bersett
March 19, 2013
Robert Walsh ’37 may have lost a little off his fastball but his curve still has bite at 99 years old.
Walsh is the Gamma Phi Circus’ oldest living alum, and though his tumbling career ended long ago, he still lives on his own, still drives a Ford (day and night), and still cracks wise with the best of them.
Maureen Brunsdale, a circus historian and head of Milner Library Special Collections and Rare Books department, has gotten to know Walsh in recent years. She issued a friendly warning to this writer when he told her he planned to interview Walsh.
“You don’t know what you’re getting into,” she said. “He’s an incredibly energetic 99-year-old. He is a character—all caps.”
Walsh regained his independence last year after an injury temporarily put him in a nursing home. He is built like a cornstalk and retains a farmer’s handshake. Brunsdale said Walsh credits his years in the circus for his longevity. All he would say about it is, “I’m still here.”
Other examples of that character include how he told College of Applied Science and Technology Dean Jeffrey Wood he needed to lose his beard. Another time, in a story that changes slightly with the teller, he initially rebuffed an inquiring Chicago Tribune reporter for either refusing to drive to his Farmer City home for the requested interview or because the reporter wouldn’t make a donation to Walsh’s beloved circus program.
All Walsh would say about the matter is, “I don’t remember. I tell you, things happen that don’t really amount to much to you at the time. And there are some things I want to keep in mind and I want my mind to stay as good as it can—what little mind I have.”
Walsh was joking of course—about his mind—as one can tell after even a brief conversation with him. He is mentally nimble enough to recite, without prodding or stuttering, a slogan from his college days: “A good education consists in giving onto the body and onto the soul all of the beauty and all of the perfection of which they are capable.”
One thing he has kept in mind all these years is Gamma Phi Circus. Just as he will celebrate his 100th birthday this year, he will also pass the 80th anniversary of his introduction into what is now the country’s oldest collegiate circus program.