Just clowning around: Shrine Circus back in town, spotlighting elder comic entertainers
Arline Ayala rides an elephant for "The Jordan World Circus Performing Elephants" during the 29th annual Shrine Circus at L.C. Walker Arena on March 7, 2014.
By Lisha Arino
March 07, 2014
MUSKEGON, MI – Three of the Shrine Circus clowns received a special treat while performing in the center ring of the 29th Annual Muskegon Shrine Circus Friday at the L.C. Walker Arena: a "Happy Birthday" greeting from the audience.
More than 1,500 area residents, local school children and residents of adult group homes on March 7 sang "Happy Birthday" to nonagenarian clowns Cliff "Bo-Bo" Pfaff of Grand Haven, Wesley A. "Patches" Rohde, also of Grand Haven, and Sully "Wee Willy" Caplitz of Norton Shores.
Cliff "Bo-Bo" Pfaff (left), Wesley A. "Patches" Rohde (center) and Sully "Wee Willy" Caplitz (right) wave to the crowd as it sings "Happy Birthday" to them.
Only Pfaff celebrated a birthday recently – he turned 90 on March 2 – but the circus decided to spotlight all three of them at the show, said Circus Manager Thomas George, who also dresses up as a clown named Spangles.
Pfaff has been a Shrine clown since 1970, he said. Rohde, 90, has spent the last 16 years as a clown, while Caplitz, 91, has been a clown for the past decade. They said they continue to dress up because they like to make kids happy.
"It's very gratifying. It truly is, especially for old people like us," said Caplitz as Rohde turned to face him.
"Who's old?" Rohde joked.
"You," Caplitz shot back with a smile.
The clowns weren't the only ones who had a good time at the circus.
The audience cheered for the show's various acts, which included flying trapeze artists, thrilling stunts and exotic animals. During intermission, children had the opportunity to run through a large bounce house, meet the clowns, and get their faces painted. Elephant and pony rides were also available.
Ashely Harmon, from Muskegon, said she and her two children, 8-year-old Jordan Smith and 5-year-old Desirae Billings, come to the circus each year.
"It's amazing," she said. The event is an especially good time for Smith, who has special needs.
"He looks forward to it," Harmon said.
The Ibarra family from Shelby also decided to return to the circus this year.
"He likes the animals," said Sidney Ibarra, while her husband, Jaime, held the hand of their 2-year-old son, Jaime Jr.
"It's a nice, family event," she said.
Nadir Woodall, 6, and his sister Hassen, 4, sit in the audience during the 29th annual Shrine Circus at L.C. Walker Arena on March 7, 2014.
The circus is hosted annually by the Muskegon Shrine Club. Proceeds from the event benefit the club's operations.
Proceeds also go to the transportation fund at the Saladin Shrine Center in Grand Rapids, which are used to take children to area Shrine Hospitals. The Muskegon club also uses the money to purchase wheelchairs for local kids.