Piper native entertains millions in Ringling Brothers circus

Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)
Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)

by Mary Rupert

Eric Stonestreet isn’t the only famous entertainer from Piper who makes people laugh. Dean Kelley, a Piper graduate, entertains millions of people as a clown for the Ringling Brothers circus.

Kelley will entertain the home crowd Sept. 10-14 as the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey “Built to Amaze” Circus comes to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

People would sometimes ask Kelley about Eric Stonestreet, a comic actor from Piper now on “Modern Family” television series, who also did some clown acts.

Kelley, 34, said the two are both graduates of Piper High School, but in different eras.

Being a clown on the weekends in high school, Kelley also did theater and was in the band at Piper, he recalled in a recent interview. He was a drum major in the marching band, and played in the jazz band as well.

“My passion and my focus on my free time when I wasn’t doing school things was clowning,” he said.

“Once I got out of high school and went to college, I did professional theater in the Kansas City area,” Kelley said. He worked at the New Theater, Coterie Theater, and Theater for Young America, and that’s how he got a lot of performing experience, he added.

A graduate of Piper Elementary, Piper Middle School and Piper High School, Kelley attended KCKCC before joining the circus.

Most of his family lives in the Tonganoxie area now, and he was able to visit them just last month while traveling from one city to the next. He expects to see them again while he’s performing this week.

“I’ve traveled to 48 of the 50 states because of Ringling Brothers,” he said. “It’s been an amazing opportunity and wonderful career. I’m loving every minute of it.”

What does he like most about being a clown? Kelley said he likes the fact that he could do something that he loves to do, and not everyone can say that.

“One of the coolest things about being a clown, being in Ringling, is I get to perform for millions of people every year. To make people laugh all over the country, it’s amazing,” Kelley said.

While on the job, Kelley says he’s a magnification of himself, “very big and boisterous, making sure people want to have a good time.”

It is much harder to be a clown than people think, he acknowledges.

“I like to say it’s the hardest work you will ever love,” he said. “A lot of people think you can just throw on makeup, baggy clothes, and poof, you’re a clown. Makeup and costumes are part of it, but there is so much more to it.”

There are skills such as juggling, stilt walking, how to ride a unicycle. Routines performed by clowns are choreographed with clowns spending hours and hours on it before a routine even gets to the audience, he said.

This is Kelley’s ninth year with Ringling Brothers, and he’s been a clown for about 20 years now. He hasn’t missed attending a circus since he was 4 years old.

While in the Kansas City area, Kelley was a member of the International Clown Alley No. 92, and was vice president of the organization at one point. It is an organization that will help those who aspire to being a clown.

“A lot of people have dreams as kids, but I stuck with it,” Kelley said. “I literally ran away and joined the circus. It’s been an amazing career. If you set a goal for yourself, you can attain it. I’m living proof.”

Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)
Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)

Dean Kelley (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)
Dean Kelley (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)

Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)
Dean Kelley, a Piper High School graduate, will perform with the Ringling Brothers circus this week in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo courtesy of Ringling Brothers)

Vehicle sideswipes semi on I-70

A Mazda vehicle was trying to avoid another vehicle in front of it on eastbound I-70 this morning in Kansas City, Kan., and sideswiped a semi that was traveling beside it.

According to the Kansas Turnpike Authority trooper’s report, the 30-year-old Basehor woman driving the Mazda had a possible injury.

The driver of the semi, a 34-year-old man from Apopka, Fla., was not injured, according to the report.

The accident happened about 7:55 a.m. Sept. 8 on I-70 between the Turner Diagonal and 57th Street exits, according to the report.

South Patrol station financing to be discussed at committee meeting Monday

A South Patrol police station project is scheduled to be discussed at a Unified Government standing committee meeting Monday at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St.

The financing for the project is on the agenda of the Economic Development Standing Committee meeting. That committee meeting will follow the Neighborhood and Community Development Standing Committee meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 8.

The new police station is proposed for the site of the old Structural Steel plant in the Argentine area, near 24th and Metropolitan Avenue. A new plan of financing is being proposed after the state decided not to locate the parole office there.

The new police station site is proposed for a site next to a new Walmart Neighborhood Market opening in Argentine this fall.

The new financing proposal includes separate cost figures for both a police station and a tactical unit facility, although there is no recommendation at this time for the tactical unit to move to the South Patrol station.

Also on the Economic Development Committee agenda is a revised ordinance that sets the occupation tax amount for digital outdoor advertising services, and a new ordinance on outdoor digital advertising. A proposed tax is $2,500 for digital outdoor advertising sign faces of less than 300 square feet, and $10,000 per digital outdoor advertising sign faces of 300 square feet or more.