This Stuffed Animal Circus Is Bringing Joy And Charity To One Eau Claire Neighborhood
Molly Rowekamp, 6, paints a sign advertising the stuffed animal zoo she created at her home with her family. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

Projects also combines learning with creativity

As the coronavirus pandemic forced people from communing with each other, an Eau Claire family decided to transform their property into a place that not only lifted spirits but helped make their community a better place.

Last weekend Chad and Michelle Rowekamp and their children, Owen, 8, and Molly, 6, staged a circus of stuffed animals and accessories in their yard.

The family’s yard was decked out for the occasion, strings holding animals in place, colorful ribbons decorating trees and forming a tent, and a painted sign proclaiming the event “the greatest show on earth.” The display was complete with creatures overhead as if on a trapeze and others appearing to juggle and jump through hoops.

The stuffed animals, dressed in costumes, mimicked the actions of circus performers. A tiger stood upon a tightrope. A monkey was inside a cannon, as if ready to be airborne. Two others were perched on a trapeze made of painted popsicle sticks and fishing line.

The stuffed animal zoo in the Rowekamps’ yard included a panda bear in a makeshift tree, along with a tiger and leopard with accompanying signs providing information about the animals. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

“Putting it all in place with that strong wind was a real challenge,” Michelle Rowekamp said in reference to breezy conditions during setup. “But we were happy with how it turned out.”

So were others who saw it, judging by their reactions. The event had been advertised on Facebook, and periodic passersby stopped to admire the circus. Some marveled at the creativity and others noted the amount of work that went into putting it on.

Susan Kishel, who lives a couple doors from the Rowekamps, and her 9-year-old son Frey stopped by to view the circus and a zoo that had been set up there on previous weekends. She praised the Rowekamp family’s work and said she appreciates the details they included. 

“They put so much work into it,” Kishel said, referencing trapezes hanging from trees and a tightrope-walking tiger that were part of the circus project. “What they’re doing has really brightened up the neighborhood during a tough time. They’re really the best neighbors you could ask for.”

Frey appreciated the zoo and circus too. A fan of stuffed animals, he said he appreciated the many creatures that were part of the displays, noting “a monkey in a cannon was my favorite part.”

The circus and the zoo that preceded came about as the Rowekamps sought outlets for their children that combined school learning with creativity. For example, rather than just practicing writing letters of the alphabet, they said, Owen researched where different animals live and other aspects such as their diets and wrote about them. Molly then designed the zoo, deciding where the different animals should be located. She painted signs for it too.  

“I felt like this was a more fun, creative way of the kids learning lessons,” Chad Rowekamp said. “The kids took it and ran with it.”

Owen Rowekamp, 8, researches different animals and writes about them as part of a project he worked on with his sister Molly and his parents to create a stuffed animal zoo in the family’s yard. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

The zoo and circus projects helped her children better focus on learning, Michelle Rowekamp said. Instead of feeling they were doing the same old coursework, she said her children were excited about using those same skills to create those settings.   

“We were struggling to keep the kids’ attention teaching them at home with school shut down,” she said. “But when they started work on this, they were really enjoying it. They wanted to learn.”

Chad and Michelle Rowekamp and their children, Owen, 8, and Molly, 6, have transformed their Eau Claire yard into a stuffed animal circus and zoo in recent weeks, an effort to provide an emotional boost to those passing by the venture during the coronavirus pandemic and to raise money for a local humane association and to provide food for homeless people. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

The children’s lessons extended to providing circus and zoo attendees with information related to those endeavors written in chalk on the sidewalk bordering the Rowekamps’ property. They also set up a container and a sign to collect donations for the Eau Claire County Humane Association. 

In addition to providing happy moments, the Rowekamps’ stuffed animal shows raised about $150 for the humane association, in addition to donated pet food. Last weekend the circus exhibit garnered about $60, money the family said it will put toward a pizza party for homeless people staying at Hobbs Ice Center in Eau Claire during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Rowekamps are doing more good deeds. They recently solicited ideas from friends and neighbors to help the community and are organizing and funding an effort that will provide positive messages and gift cards for others. 

The Rowekamps’ stuffed animal zoo not only provided much-needed entertainment for passersby during the coronavirus pandemic but raised about $150 and pet food donations for the Eau Claire County Humane Association. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

“It’s important that we teach our kids to help people in need,” Michelle Rowekamp said. 

The Rowekamps took the past weekend off from stuffed animal shows, noting a cold, rainy weekend weather forecast and Mother’s Day. They periodically host similar activities and said they may do more to provide a fun respite for people during a tough time. 

Among Chad Rowekamp’s favorite reactions to the circus in his yard was that of an eldery woman who smiled and applauded as she viewed it. He hopes to bring more smiles to people’s faces with future projects, he said. 

“This is just our way to help out in a way that we can,” he said.