The 76th annual Mizpah Shrine Circus will ring in the new year with riveting shows featuring exotic animals, clowns, death-defying stunts and more Jan. 28-30 at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The circus is the major fundraiser of the Mizpah Shrine Center of Fort Wayne, 1015 Memorial Way.
“This event is about building community and keeping it affordable so everyone can attend,” says Mike Hardiek of the Shrine Circus Committee. “There’s not enough family-friendly entertainment around, but this is something everyone looks forward to each year.”
Acts from across the country and around the world are still being booked in order to get the best talent available, he says.
Some main attractions in past years have included White and Gold Tigers, Mongolian Strong Man, Tulga, Horsemanship by Erika Zerbini, Tarzan Zerbini Elephants, the Wheel of Death and The Flying Trapeze.
The circus was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, but attendance is typically around 30,000 per year and people travel hundreds of miles to attend, says Hardiek.
Tarzan Zerebini Circus of Missouri produces the circus in Fort Wayne and in other locations across the country, bringing in fresh attractions each year.
More and more thrill rides, acrobatics and stunts are being performed to attract people of all ages, says Hardiek.
A Circus Fair is held in the lower level of the coliseum, where there are activities for all ages, children’s crafts, pony and elephant rides and opportunities to view the animals up-close.
The coliseum hires and provides full access to staff from Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control and Humane Fort Wayne to observe the feeding, training and care of the circus animals while they’re in town, Hardiek says.
“There is never a time the animals are not in view and no animals are mistreated or uncared for and we order the best food for them,” he says.
The Mizpah Shriners of Northeast Indiana represent 22 counties and nearly 2,000 Shrine Masons. Their mission is to support thousands of patients receiving care at area Shriner’s Hospitals and Clinics for Children.
Shriners International is a fraternity-based organization with values of having fun and fellowship while living out the Masonic principles of brotherly love and truth, and aiding relief efforts. There are about 200 local chapters and thousands of clubs on six continents. Shriners are known for their fellowship, brotherhood, compassion and generosity, says Hardiek. They also help men to become better leaders, husbands, fathers, friends and community contributors. There are more than 200,000 Shriners worldwide.
Local Shrine centers around the world offer activities to connect people and support causes. Local chapters can also be created to address unmet needs in a community, Hardiek says.
The organization seeks to attract men of different backgrounds, career paths, ages and interests. The fraternity established Shriners Hospitals for Children as its official philanthropy in 1922 and continues to support it today. The hospitals, located in the U.S., Mexico and Philippines, specialize in pediatric care; world-class research and medical education; and advanced care for children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate conditions.
“We believe any child needing medical attention should get the best care in the world and not being dependent upon their family’s ability to pay for it,” Hardiek says.
Members support Shriner’s Children through their dues, as voting delegates and as volunteers at hospitals, clinics, and events.
Members and their families also engage in fundraising efforts, hosting events including like golf tournaments, football games, motorcycle rides, fishing tournaments, dinner parties and dances.
Their impact has been powerful.
Since opening the first Shriners Children’s location, the healthcare system has improved the lives of more than 1.5 million children.
All proceeds from the circus go to the Mizpah Shrine Center’s operational fund to pay for the next circus and to benefit Shriners Children’s Hospitals and Clinics.
Although it’s a fraternal organization, family members of Shriners have their own organizations and women’s groups have goals of their own.
“We could not exist and be a healthy organization without the involvement of women,” says Hardiek. “They volunteer right along with us, doing exactly the same things the men are doing to benefit their communities and causes.”
Circus shows are on Friday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m., 2:30 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday Jan. 30 at 2 p.m. at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, 4000 Parnell Ave.
Tickets range in price from $16 to $25 and are available by calling the coliseum box office (230) 483-1111 or by visiting MizpahShrineCircus.com. ❚