Local charities the winner at Gibsonton Showmen’s Circus
Proceeds from the shows, which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 30 years, are distributed to local charities such as children’s hospitals and the Mary & Martha House in Ruskin.
By Kevin Brady
Seated just a few feet from the fire-breathing “Human Volcano” and acrobats who seemed to defy gravity at times, children cheered, gasped and laughed in equal measure, but local charities were the real winners at the International Showmen’s Association Charity Circus.
Now in its 30th year, the charity circus, staged at the association’s Gibsonton headquarters, drew around 2,000 visitors for three Jan. 11 shows staged under an intimate big top, where even those in the back row could see the sweat beads on the juggler’s forehead as he balanced atop a ladder while tossing clubs in the air.
“It’s always something we have done as our way of giving back to the community,” said Lee Stevens, chairman of the charity show for the past 16 years. “It’s a labor of love for us.”
Proceeds from the shows, which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 30 years, according to organizers, are distributed to local charities. Children’s hospitals and the Mary & Martha House in Ruskin are among those who have benefited in the past.
“We decide where we distribute the funds after the event is over and like to give to the small, local charities,” Stevens said. “We are not looking for any glory out of it. We just do it because we have always done it.”
Performers from all over the state traveled to Gibsonton for the show, which featured jugglers, acrobats, performing horses, aerial artists, clowns and elephants.
“Everyone who performs or participates in the show volunteers their time. That’s what so unique about the show,” Stevens said.
Spitting and juggling fire for more than a decade, Lamount “The Human Volcano” said there is something about a live circus show that cannot be duplicated.
“You can see a lot of things on TV but you can’t see real elephants or entertainers up close. You don’t see anything like that except at the circus where you get to see it live and close up, and I think that’s part of the glitz of the circus,” said Lamount as he warmed up for his performance outside the big top.
“Some of us risk our lives every day doing this, and I think that’s also part of the thrill of it as well.”
Nostalgia was part of the draw for Angela Wlelfer, who brought her son to the show on Riverview Drive.
“It’s something I got to see as a child, but now [that] I live in Gibsonton I am able to bring my son to see a local circus perform,” said Wlelfer. “It’s the entertainment of getting people to laugh with the clowns, the elephants rides — the kids love the elephant rides — and of course, the cotton candy.”
The circus was part of growing up for Tampa’s Steven Binyard, something he wanted to share with his wife and two children.
“Even if the kids don’t want to come, we as parents bring them because it’s something we did as kids and the kids end up loving it.”
It’s not just youngsters who are drawn to the show, said Gloria Myers, president of the Showman’s Association.
“We have a whole group from Sun City Center who come for the show every year. It has become a tradition for people,” said Myers.
No matter their age, audiences will never tire of seeing performers doing things they wouldn’t dream of, Stevens said.
“It’s watching others performing acts you can’t do. It’s almost mythical,” Stevens said.