- January 7, 2020
They’ve walked the tightrope and balanced atop a human pyramid to applause and appreciation from circus fans around the world.
Now it’s time to be honored with induction into the Circus Ring of Fame.
On Jan. 13, four acts will be added to the popular attraction on St. Armands Circle. This year’s inductees: The Hernandez Troupe, Ron Morris, Carla Wallenda and The Rodos Troupe and Palace Duo.
Carla Wallenda, 81, daughter of the late Karl Wallenda, was part of 27 acts throughout her career. Her main act was the high-wire, where she topped a seven-person pyramid.
Eventually, that act ended and it was time for her to find something new. It took her a year to persuade her father to let her have her own act – 110 feet in the air on a sway pole.
Wallenda said all she ever wanted to do was perform. At the age of 10, she started walking around the circus asking performers if she could practice with them.
Wallenda’s most recent performance was on Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots: Forever Young,” where she performed her sway pole act. She said, though, that she wants to do at least one more performance.
As the years have gone on, she’s made small adjustments to her sway pole act, which she called her favorite.
“The sway pole, just you know is a thrill when I’m up there,” she said. “It gets harder and harder to climb up that high, but I slowed down. I don’t go as fast as I used to, so we just play faster music and they (the audience) can’t tell.”
Wallenda calls her time with the circus the happiest of her life. She also said the industry allows for its performers to see the world, which is something she’s appreciated more through the eyes of her grandchildren, and she enjoyed working alongside her family.
“That’s what I like about the show business,” she said. “It’s so good to children.”
The Hernandez Troupe
The Hernandez Troupe was a family affair.
Manuel and Lisa Hernandez met while performing with another troupe, and after, they settled in Sarasota and formed their own act.
When their oldest son, Randy, turned 9, he started rehearsing with his parents. Eventually, their act grew from three people to nine as the family expanded.
“Those were the best years of my life was when I was standing in the ring and surrounded by my family,” Lisa Hernandez said. “It was very rewarding and exhilarating to me because we always had such a good time doing it. We had a fun act.”
Their best-known act was on a springboard, but the Hernandez siblings did other acts throughout their career, such as juggling.
During their circus tenure, the family presented various circus acts while traveling the U.S. and beyond. They performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1988 to 1992. The troupe was often referred to as “those bouncing, twisting titans of the teeterboard.”
Although the family no longer performs, they teach, direct, produce and write. The youngest of the siblings recently completed his first book, “Circle Legends.”
Ron Morris was an adventurer.
Morris’ wife, Arlene Morris, said show business is a risky one, and it’s hard to know if a show would make it through a season.
But that didn’t stop her husband from being involved in the business.
“I think he enjoyed the creative end of it, the business end of it and also the people, who were great adventures on their own,” Arlene Morris said.
In 1971, the Morrises came to Sarasota so Ron Morris could write a biography on high-wire legend Karl Wallenda. From there, the pair started traveling with different circuses running concessions, which he started in as a young man in Toronto. He met a circus family and invested with them and ran their concessions.
Arlene Morris said her husband had a creative eye for art and used that while creating material for various shows. After traveling with the circus, the Morrises settled in Sarasota.
The late Morris, a circus entrepreneur and impresario, established Sarasota’s Spotlight Graphics, which has been an industry leader in circus posters, programs and ticket printing. After 30 years, Morris sold the business and retired.
When he wasn’t running the business, he also produced circuses and was a past president of Showfolks of Sarasota and a former Circus Ring of Fame board member.
The Rodos Troupe and Palace Duo
In a YouTube clip, the Rodos Troupe members elegantly and precisely flip their bodies in sync across the stage during a performance on “Hollywood Palace,” a TV variety show that ran throughout the 1960s.
Among those are Rosie and Hans Rode, who also formed the Palace Duo.
In 1960, the group came to America. Shortly after, Rosie’s mother wrote a permission slip allowing her to date, and in 1961, Hans and Rosie were married.
The troupe did acrobatics and tumbling while the Palace Duo was an aerial cradle act. The groups practiced every day for a few hours except when they were traveling.
Throughout their tenure, the groups made television, stage and circus appearances, including time with the Ringling Bros.
“There’s nothing better than working with the family,” Rosie Rode said.
In 1972, they retired and opened the Old Heidelberg Castle at the corner of Fruitville Road and U.S. 301, which they operated until 1995. Not only was it a restaurant that served Bavarian-style food, but it also featured music, dancing and acrobats.