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Araba Shrine Circus comes to Lee Civic Center

By Staff | Apr 28, 2015

Thousands of children young and old saw the acrobats, the animals, the clowns and more. And it all went for the great cause.

The Araba Shrine Circus came to the Lee Civic Center once again for three big shows on Friday, including a free morning show for school children from all over Southwest Florida, from Charlotte County to Everglades City.

Thousands of children, mostly pre-K to kindergarten came in color-coded shirts with their teachers and chaperones to visit the petting zoo before the show. They then got to witness some of the most amazing thrills they had ever seen in their young lives.

From the moment Ulysses ran on the human-powered wheel of thrills to when the motorcycle riders left the “Globe of Death” there was almost 90 minutes of non-stop excitement.

“It’s a family show, the kids love it. Lots of animals, tricks and clowns,” said Dick Nelson, potentate at the Araba Shrine. “It’s for the kids. We invited all the schools in our area to bring them.”

The show was led by the singing ringmaster, Devin Chandler, who has been working for Circus Hollywood, the Bradenton-based group that produces the show, for 20 years.

“This is something for people of all ages. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. It’s a classic circus,” Chandler said. “These morning shows are exciting. When you get thousands of screaming kids, it wakes you up fast.”

For those who had never been to a circus before, it was something they would never forget. Willie Green, a lifelong Fort Myers resident, brought his son, Willie III, 4.

“I liked it. It was a great atmosphere and I loved the motorcycles. That was sweet,” Willie said, who got agreement from his son. “We’re going to go again.”

It wasn’t all little kids who went. Several high schools with special needs classes brought their students along.

Stacie Schweizer, a Special Ed/Life Skills teacher at Island Coast High School, said her students had an awesome time.

“This was one of our best field trips. They all laughed and had a great time,” Schweizer said.

The circus serves as a fundraiser for the Araba Shrine on Hanson Street in Fort Myers, which serves five counties in Southwest Florida, which allows it to serve the Shriners Hospital in Tampa, one of 22 Shriners hospitals in the country.

Nelson said the Shrine does so much for the large area it serves.

“We have four vans, wheelchair equipped, and we have more than 500 kids from our area that are active patients,” Nelson said. “We transport them to their appointments, bring them home, there’s no charge for the treatment or transportation.”

And the circus goes a long way to make sure these services remain.

A Shriner clown that went by the name “Tenpin” said when he saw the kids get off the bus and saw the clowns, their faces brightened up.

“My job is to make them smile. Then they see a great show and when they leave, they have a great story to tell when they get home. That’s what it’s all about.”