Family circus cheers up isolated Mount Olivet seniors

Henry, 18, and Oliver, 14, juggle while Olivia, 16, and Simon, 12, perform contortion for residents of Mount Olivet senior home to watch from their windows on April 2. Submitted photo

A family of circus performers found a creative way to bring joy to the Mount Olivet senior home in Windom, where visits to residents are restricted amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Lynnhurst siblings Henry, Olivia, Oliver and Simon Monson-Haefel performed a circus act of unicycling, juggling, handstands, acrobatics and contortion on April 2 as residents watched from the windows of their rooms.

The performers’ mother, Hollie, said her children learned the skills by taking five years of classes at Circus Juventas in St. Paul and thought their talents could be applied as socially distant entertainment.

“I drove by [Mount Olivet] a few weeks ago, and I saw a big placard sign that said ‘No visitors,’” Monson-Haefel said. “I started to think of how lonely it was for the people there and how we could give back and bring some joy to them.”

Mount Olivet resident Shirley Oquist said the performance helped ease the loneliness she feels from not getting visits from her daughter.

“It makes you feel like people are working together, and it gives us a time so that we don’t have to think about everything that’s going on right now,” she said. “Time goes slow when you can’t do anything or see your family.”

During the performance, residents looked out their windows, clapped their hands and shouted cheers.

“They were really happy to see us and it was really fun to perform again since we can’t really do circus anymore,” said 12-year-old Simon, the youngest in the family.

The older siblings, 18-year old Henry and 16-year old Olivia, spend up to 25 hours per week training and socializing at Circus Juventus but the governor’s stay-at-home order has closed the facility.

“It’s been very eye-opening to how much circus means to me, because without it, part of my life has just disappeared,” Henry said.

The homeschooled family said that while they’re accustomed to spending a lot of time together, they miss the social camaraderie of training.

“Not being able to see my circus people” has been the hardest part, Olivia said.

The family said their sidewalk circus presented challenges of limited equipment and space they don’t usually face in their usual performances at Circus Juventus, churches and carnivals.

“A lot of the equipment is only at circus,” Olivia said. “It was a narrow space to perform on, but we kind of make it work anywhere — you see your stage, figure out what you’re going to do and work around all the little problems that come up.”

The first case of COVID-19 at Mount Olivet was confirmed on April 3, and the senior home continues precautions put in place March 13 that include restricting residents to their rooms and conducting daily symptom assessment and temperature readings.

Oliver, 14, said the excitement of residents was the highlight of the performance.

“There was whistling, there was whooping,” he said. “Everyone was really excited. Everyone was pressed to their windows — it was really cool.”

The family said they are in contact with other area nursing homes and plan to continue their socially distant performances, hoping to inspire people to share what they have with others.

“Especially in these times, sharing and being kind to other people — we really need that right now, so it hopefully will inspire some people to do some kind things for other people,” Olivia said.