Kelly Miller Circus big hit in Toulon

Ran away with the circus at age 59!

By Jim Nowlan
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Hundreds of the cutest little tykes you have ever seen, with parents and grandparents trailing behind, filled the 1,000-plus seats under the big top Saturday afternoon east of Toulon. The Kelly Miller Circus exceeded even my high expectations for good old-fashioned family fun performed by a talented troupe.

During the first half of the two-hour performance (I had to leave at intermission for another commitment), Kelly Miller ringmaster Rebecca Ostroff brought into the ring a medley of colorful acts.

There was the high-wire motorcyclist, with dangling beauty on a trapeze; a terrific juggler who kept six, maybe more, varied objects flying high in the air; a striking young Mongolian couple twirling high above us; a small animal act that included dogs, of course, as well as a Billy goat that jumped on the back of a circling pony, and a clown (with a red nose, certainly), and more.

Before the performance, the circus wheedled money out of parents—and even more out of grandparents—for rides on the camel and the elephant.
All great fun.

Children taking a ride in the circus ring on Anna Louise, the elephant.
Children taking a ride in the circus ring on Anna Louise, the elephant.

Toulon stop a big success

“People bought lots of tickets for our stop here,” declared circus owner John Ringling North, a descendant of the famed circus dynasty. “Toulon has outsold some much bigger towns on our schedule. I’m pleased.”

According to circus program hawker and truck driver Gene Hembree, the 60-plus performers, animal handlers, tent crew and others of this circus—which does two shows a day, seven days a week for 36 weeks a year—are truly a “family.”

Many of the troupe grew up in the circus.

“People are born to it,” said Wendy Plunkett, who took tickets out front, “and many travel as real-life families.”

For example, on the program are Nicolas Souren, the juggler, and Kimberley Souren, the trapeze artist.

The big top tent was raised mid-morning for the circus show.
The big top tent was raised mid-morning for the circus show.

Like Wendy, all the people I met from the circus, as I moseyed around before the 2 p.m. show, were pleasant, down-to-earth folks who seemed to sincerely just want to make children of all ages have a good time.

“When my job in Houston evaporated in 2001, I ran away with the circus at age 59,” smiled Gene, now a hale and hearty 75.

“I made more money in previous jobs,” Gene went on, as we talked just outside the big tent, where he hawked programs at $2 per, “but I make enough selling these 2 buck programs to pay for a month in Ireland each winter.

“And it’s hard to spend money during the season,” he added.

The circus has its own cookhouse, which provides two meals a day.

“We had pork chops last night,” said Gene, the program hawker, “and we’re having meatloaf tonight, I’m told.”

As for rewards of traveling with the circus, Gene says simply, “We meet wonderful people in towns like Toulon.”

“If you think this world is going to Hell, you can feel a little better about what is going on because of all the great small town people you meet who come out to our circus. It’s reassuring.”

Finally, a Big Thanks to the Toulon Civic Association, which brought the circus to Stark County as part of Toulon’s 175th anniversary celebration.

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