Weather Forecast


Grew loved circus life

Shirley Grew

Hey, hey, folks, step right this way to see the bearded lady, the little gal who sprinkles ground glass on her Wheaties, and knows a snake that can sing.

Now, our resident, Shirley Grew, doesn't have a beard, she's never tried ground glass on anything, an' she's never heard a snake sing. However, she was a part of the Cole Circus Troop for 12 years. She quit just 5 years ago, at age 76.

Shirley was born on a farm in the Central area north of Verndale in 1931 to Morris and Irma Baker. She and her brother and two sisters graduated from high school in Verndale.

Shirley found her first job in Minneapolis at the big Donaldson store selling shoes. She married Milton (Buzz) Doughty, who was a machinist, and they have 6 children. Buzz died of a heart attack.

Shirley and Ernest Grew were married in 1979. They moved to the home Grew farm near Verndale. These were depression years, big time. Shirley was taught that if you needed a job and couldn't find one, make one. So that's what she did.

Using a talent she learned as a child from her great-grandmother, she knit. From a rocking chair in her own living room, using Faribault Lamb's pride yarn from their store, she made afghans for Bemidji Woolen Mills. Each $30 of the $46 each one sold for was hers.

Then, from her wheelchair, Shirley said "Look on the top shelf in my closet to see what else I made." I found a woolen hat, with a brim. It is a nifty little hat made of felting wool yarn. The procedure calls for soaking yarn in boiling hot water. She does many at a time in her washer. Shirley has made a thousand of them, 500 of which sold from the Bemidji Woolen Mills. She is still selling them from her home in Verndale, where she will be again a week from today.

In the 1980's prices were still on there way up so Shirley decided to apply for a job. Describing herself as "a bit different," she applied for a job in Cole's Circus when it was playing in Wadena. "I didn't want just a job, she said. I wanted something I could be interested in," Shirley said.

Shirley was there 12 years, enjoying each day immensely, selling tickets. She found the circus to truly be for families and the masses, not select groups. Her pay depended on how may tickets she sold. "Since we had 2 shows each time, always filling to capacity, I made a decent wage. Many are Mexican, as 4 year old boy who performed on a unicycle, little girls walking on the high wire who started training when they were 2 years old. What with the clowns being funny, on stage and off, there was plenty of hijinks to laugh at."

There was the usual complement of circus animals in the show. Mr. Jose Cole was Mexican himself. He was a kind boss, especially with the animals. Shirley's special pet was a black African Elephant named Queen Anne Louise.

Staying in motels wherever they were was paid for. The circus played in 17 towns in a season. Shirley would do it again if she could, they were fine folk who she sometimes still hears from when they are in the area.

Soon after you read this Shirley will be likely be finished with therapy and back in her own home.

How pleased we are that Shirley decided to spend time under our big roof!