Circus Clown’s Legacy Lives on in Scholarship Fund
Lake George High School may be the only school in the country where scholarships are available to students who want to attend a circus conservatory.
That’s because the school is the beneficiary of the Poodles Hanneford Scholarship Fund, established by the famed circus clown’s daughter to finance college and post-graduate scholarships, and not just for would-be circus performers. Students pursuing careers in the performing arts and in writing or journalism are also eligible for the scholarships.
The fund now has a value of $1.130 million and generates enough income to provide at least four students with scholarships ranging in size from five to ten thousand dollars every year, said Jim Mathis, the president of the Lake George Scholarship Association.
According to Mathis, the first scholarships were awarded in 2008, two years after the death of Gracie Hanneford, who chose to leave her entire estate to a scholarship fund honoring her father.
“She wanted her father’s name to live on, and it will,” said Rosemarie Earl, the school’s guidance counselor.
Edwin “Poodles” Hanneford was a clown bareback rider known as the “riding fool” who had a home on Kattskill Bay.
Born in a circus wagon in Yorkshire England, Hanneford was descended from jugglers who entertained George III. He moved to the US in 1915 to join the Ringling Brothers circus, and came to Lake George to live after he retired from the circus in 1954. He continued to perform, though, appearing with his daughter Gracie at Frontier Town until the summer before his death in 1967. He is buried in Glens Falls.
Gracie Hanneford, who lived in the Kattskill Bay house until her death in 2006, performed as a bareback rider for many circuses over the course of several decades. She also worked in Hollywood, serving as a stuntwoman and double for Judy Garland, among other jobs.
As a Lake George resident, Hanneford was an active parishioner at St. James Episcopal Church, serving on the Altar Guild and as a vestry member.
She did not, however, attend Lake George schools or have children in the schools.
That’s one reason why “we were stunned” when the Scholarship Association was informed that it was her sole heir, said Jim Mathis.
“We had no idea it was coming,” said Mathis.
Mathis said Rosemarie Earl and her husband’s parents, Peg and the late Wayde Earl, played a significant role in the creation of the fund, however unintentionally.
The Earls, who are known for their interest in and knowledge of the circus, befriended Gracie Hanneford.
“At a Thanksgiving dinner one year, she mentioned that she was wondering what she could do to help local kids. I brought up the possibility of a scholarship fund, but little did I know that she would leave the fund her entire estate, or that it would be worth this much. It was a big surprise,” said Rosemarie Earl.
According to Jim Mathis, the fields of study that qualify for support from the fund include theater, film, television, the circus, literature and journalism.
Students can re-apply for funding every year so long as they remain within an arts or journalism program, said Mathis.
The fund is also one of the few that support graduate studies, said Earl.
“Choosing a career in the arts is a gamble; the percentage of those who succeed is small, so we’re glad that we’re in a position to help those who are willing to take the risk,” said Mathis.
Mathis added, “We hope that one or more of those students will achieve great success and remember the Lake George Scholarship Association with their support.”
To support scholarships for students in fields other than the performing arts and writing, the Scholarship Association conducts fundraisers every year, said Mathis.