JOSEPH VANI, 94, WAS CIRCUS CLOWN
Inducted into Clown Hall of Fame
By Rebecca Goodman | RGOODMAN@ENQUIRER.COM
MILFORD - Old clowns don't retire. When they can no longer do pratfalls, they still work hard to make people laugh.
That held true with Joseph Robert Vani. When he approached 90, he told funny stories to visitors at the International Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee. He used a walker, but his eyes twinkled. He could still make people laugh.
Mr. Vani - thought to be the world's oldest professional circus clown - died March 21 at Meadowbrook Care Center in Montgomery after breaking his hip. The Milford resident was 94.
He was "sharp as a tack and a real fast wit," said his niece Marlene Lorenz of Twin Lakes, Wis. He was "always kidding around with everybody."
Mr. Vani performed with Chester Sherman, a Greater Cincinnati native, as the Sherman Brothers from 1937 until 1975. In one popular routine, a clown gobbles hot dogs he has stolen from a clown vendor. He gets sick and when his stomach is pumped by clown doctors, out pops a little dog. The clowns take a bow and exit followed by the dog walking on its hind legs. Audiences roared.
The Sherman Brothers were inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1995. Their clown wardrobe and effects are prominently displayed.
Mr. Vani was born in Chicago. His father, a firefighter, was trampled to death by runaway horses while responding to a fire. Because his mother was unable to care for him and his three brothers, Mr. Vani was sent to an orphanage until the sixth grade.
In his teens he answered an ad for an acrobat with the Kenneth Waite Trio. He performed with Waite and Chester Sherman for several years until Waite retired. He and Sherman put together a clown act and entertained across the United States, Mexico and Canada.
"When they weren't on the road, they would be back at Chester's house" in Greater Cincinnati, said Lorenz. "When he joined the circus, he just became very close to Chester's family and they treated him like a son for most of his professional life with Chester." After Sherman died in 1976, Mr. Vani moved to Covington. He had lived in Milford for the past 20 years.
Mr. Vani used to play Santa Claus at Shillito's downtown. About 10 years ago, he became the adopted grandfather to a local first-grade class. Each spring he took the class to the Shrine Circus, his niece said.
"He just had the best attitude about life," his niece said. "His favorite thing to say was 'Everything is wonderful.' He had lost his vision. He had a very bad back and knees - probably from the hardships of clowning. But he never ever complained.
"He'd say, 'If I had it all to do over again I'd do it exactly the same.' "
Survivors include a brother, Frank Vani of New Port Richey, Fla.; and other nieces and nephews.
Services have been held. Burial was in the cemetery at St. Alphonsus Church in New Munster, WI.
Memorials: Shriner's Hospitals for Children, 2900 Rocky Point Drive, Tampa, FL 33607-1460.