Strong's 60 years owning and operating a circus her favorite
attraction sat in the stands, wearing dazzled expressions
and munching savory snacks.
mom's love for children was what started the show." said
Ruth's daughter, Linda Strong of Ojai.
23 Ruth's children and her caregiver brought the 90-year-old
Oxnard resident back to the big top.
Vargas, set up at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, was empty
when Ruth's son John, wheeled her to a ringside box seat
sat calmly, neatly dressed in an outfit that included a
cream sweater, pearls and red carnation corsage, as families
trickled into the darkened tent.
and Linda, both 48, explained that their mother suffered two
massive strokes six years ago and had just in the past month
begin remembering her past.
children were quick to fill in family history, although Ruth
spoke with poise and lucidity of her own circus days.
late husband, "Big John" Strong, who died in 1992, had
started their circus in Hollywood in 1948 with his then new
wife. He always wanted to have a circus, Ruth
Said. "It was, I think it's in the blood."
are so many stories," said Ruth's caregiver, Karen Overzat,
who decided to take Ruth to the circus that recent day.
wannabe actor, 6-foot-5-inch Big John took easily to the
ring, donning tail's and a top hat that made him appear even
was comfortable in the spotlight , too.
school, I always had the lead in every play," she said
Still, the newlyweds had to start from scratch.
started with one dog and one pony." Ruth's son John said.
trained the animals, and the couple took their little show
on the road.
Show got bigger
couple's acts and animals grew in number and variety until
their circus needed more land.
1954, they bought a few acres in Thousand Oaks, next to what
is now the Civic Arts Plaza.
their "winter quarters," elephants grazed under oak trees
and Ruth continued to train about 50 animals.
was love and discipline in equal measure," said Linda who
began riding elephants at age 4.
15 years the Big John Strong and Son Circus was one of the
biggest three-ring tented shows around, John said.
don't know how many people love circuses," Ruth said.
May to October the traveling circus set up in a new
town each day. The whole family performed, including John
and his two adopted sisters, Linda and Sandra.
Children attended Ventura County schools off-season; all
three graduated from Newbury Park High School.
made sure they got a good education," Ruth said.
john runs the John Strong Circus, which has morphed into a
traveling walk through oddity show with 150 exhibited.
never questioned involving her children in circus life.
was a healthy life," she said. "Traveling was good for them
and meeting different people was very food for them.
liked meeting people," she added, "I especially liked the
kids. I love children. I guess that's why I loved the
life I lived."
Ruth's early life,
plan for many children of her own was short-circuited when
her first husband an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, was
killed at age 25 in a car accident. The couple's
infant son died just two weeks later.
lost her whole family within two weeks of that accident,"
John said, "(But) she never gave up."
take her mind off the grief, Ruth, then 25, volunteered to
help in a Hollywood hospital during the polio epidemic. At
28 she met Big John Strong in Hollywood. They dated
and then married.
they tried to start a family, Ruth had one miscarriage after
Wednesday evening in May the painful memories move across
her eyes like shadows on water.
Then, as swiftly, poems tumble out of her mouth.
is the key to all things, it opens the door to beggars and
kings." she began,
"changes the destiny of every life and lessens the
frustration of daily strife."
recited two long poems - words she wrote after her first
husband died - about loving in the face of adversity and
faith in a grand plan.
Indeed, after Big John Strong died, Ruth remarried yet
believe in a higher power." she said.
like it is in my poems."
children know her poems by heart, too.
because you have tragedy in your life we all do." John
said. "Sometimes you can be just inches from total
looked at his mother, sitting in front of him, "She once
told me if you live each day to its fullest, you'll live a
long life, if you live to 28," he said. "Love is
what's important in life. You see the love in the
kids' faces at the circus here. It's love and joy the
family can share."
Article Submitted by John