WILKES-BARRE — Members of the Uniformed Units of the Irem Shrine worked Saturday morning to prepare for the upcoming 64th annual circus. Many of the volunteers had hammers in hand, and all seemed to have smiles on their faces, knowing their efforts would benefit members of the community, young and old.
This year the circus, with performances starting April 1 by the Hanneford Circus, will include tigers, elephants, motorcycles and a refreshed grand finale.
Glen Kraft is delighted to be able to serve as a clown for the event. “I consider the circus a holiday,” Kraft said, “and everyone here is a kid, no matter what age.”
Shriner Hank Gordy, 93, who was seated in the middle of all the activity at the 109th Field Artillery Armory, has participated in the event throughout its history. “The circus has changed in some ways, and in some ways it has stayed exactly the same,” Gordy said. “But everyone every year always has a good time.”
Noel Conrad, the group’s circus chairman, said Saturday morning’s preparation for the circus kicks off the event and “is a very, very exciting time.” More than 150 Shriners and other community members “join us to unload trailers and start putting up bleachers in anticipation of the big show,” Conrad said. “And all their efforts are voluntary.”
The Shriners also are looking forward to the arrival of the animals, which Conrad described as “very well cared for.”
Animal-rights advocates have in prior years demonstrated outside the venue. In 2010, during the week-long series of shows in the Wyoming Valley, an elephant groomer was killed by the animal in an incident that amplified calls for a ban on wild animal acts.
This year’s circus also will include bears, which it has not in previous years.
Cataldo “Ky” Saitta, potentate of the Shriners, emphasized the event as service to the community. “Many tickets have been given out for free to those in need,” Saitta said, “and we are very happy we are able to do that.”
Area school groups are invited for special free performances on Thursday and Friday of “circus week.” Many of those attendees have not been to a circus before, the volunteers said. “When they see the elephants, tigers and brightly costumed performers, their eyes get big, and they get big smiles on their faces,” Saitta said.
The excitement extends to not just the young but the young at heart. Many nursing homes make a much-anticipated trip to the circus.
“Even those in wheelchairs are delighted at the circus,” Saitta said.
The event includes concessions and vendors, complete with such favorites as hot dogs, popcorn, soda and cotton candy.
Asked about his favorite event, Conrad said, “I like everything about the circus.” He then added, “but especially the high-wire act.”