Up in the air: Exchange Club seeking help to keep Lockport circus going

Connor Hoffman/StaffLockport Exchange Club, some of whose members are shown here, will host a "mixer" Tuesday evening at 80 Main Banquet and Catering to get the word out to volunteer-minded community members that it needs help keeping the annual Lockport Exchange Circus going.

The Lockport Exchange Club has been hosting the Exchange Club Circus for 59 years. With the club experiencing a decline in membership, it is reaching out to other local volunteer organizations to see who might be interested in taking over the well loved circus. 

Exchange Club President Ralph Camarre said the club is hosting a mixer from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at 80 Main Banquet and Catering, 80 Main St., to which past and present members of the Exchange Club, as well as members of other local service organizations, are invited.

"We've only got 20-something members. It's tough to put on a circus," Camarre said.

At the mixer, club leadership will also "try and spread the message about what we do and what we can do,"  Bill Leacock said.

Leacock, who immigrated from England, said he became a member of the Exchange Club because of the camaraderie among the members and the wonderful feeling of helping out the community. 

"The expressions and the joy that the kids were obviously experiencing gave me a big lift," Leacock said, describing his reaction when he first saw the Exchange Club circus. "Not long after that I joined the club." 

Through its members, the Exchange Club raises money for youth programs, community services, promotion of Americanism and prevention of child abuse. 

The Exchange Club Circus is the club's premier fundraiser and it draws between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators every year, according to club member Brian Costello.

Ringmaster Paul Schuster said the circus was originally founded to offer the community an inexpensive family activity on a cold winter weekend. The circus always takes place on the last full weekend in February at Kenan Arena.

Schuster echoed Camarre's concern about Exchange Club membership. 

"We discovered last year membership in every (service) organization is down. Our membership is probably half of what it was 15 years ago or so. And it's been the same people doing the same jobs at the circus. We love it ... but we're not as young as we used to be," he said. 

Lockport Exchange Club supports more than 25 community organizations and programs including the YMCA and YWCA, Eastern Niagara Hospital, Lockport Public Library, high school hockey, Midget baseball, Blazer Drum Corps, adult day care, the Lockport soup kitchen, American Red Cross and South Lockport Volunteer Fire Company.

Don Kaufman, who has been a member of the Exchange Club since its first circus at the Willow Street armory almost 60 years ago, said the circus was a creation of Bill Donald, who always dreamed of having a local circus and using it to raise money for community organizations. 

At first, the circus was organized jointly by Lockport Lions Club and the Exchange Club, but after a few years it became the exclusive domain of the Exchange Club.

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