For an organization like the IJA that is nearly seventy years old, it is easy to forget that we began as a very small group, started and nurtured by people who wanted to share their love of juggling with others. There was no internet, no local clubs, and no flashy magazine. Even more importantly, a number of the early pioneers of the IJA are still alive, and are deserving of our continued thanks, appreciation, and consideration for their hard work and dedication that led us to where we are today. You can click here to see a recently published eJuggle article by my brother David Cain that features photos from the first 15 years of IJA conventions. A number of the jugglers featured in this article were present at those early conventions or were otherwise instrumental in the life of the IJA. Let’s take a look at some of those people who helped to form, grow, and advance the IJA who are still with us as of April 2015.
Even before the IJA was formed, Roger Montandon was the leader in trying to connect jugglers to one another. Starting in 1944, Roger published The Juggler’s Bulletin each month, which had news, discussions, tips, photos, description of acts, information on new props, and the latest gossip. This was the first establishment of a real juggling community. Roger was born in 1918 and started out doing a magic act in 1933 and added juggling shortly thereafter. Though never a full-time professional performer, he was a collector of books on juggling, as well as props, greeting cards, cartoons, and anything else on the subject. He has been a great resource for jugglers for decades. Roger is the last surviving founding member of the IJA. He was one of the eight jugglers who met for lunch on June 17, 1947 following the juggling session at the International Brotherhood of Magician convention in Pittsburgh, PA and formed the International Jugglers’ Association. Montandon’s publication became the communication tool of the new IJA until the organization started their own IJA Newsletter. He published the Juggler’s Bulletin starting in October 1944 with about 150 subscribers until September 1949. In the July 1947 edition, he reported news of the creation of the IJA, which surely helped add to the membership roll substantially. He served as the group’s first Treasurer as well. You can read more about Roger from the Summer 1987 Juggler’s World magazine – http://www.juggling.org/jw/87/2/montandon.html. Roger still lives in Oklahoma, and though he has dispersed much of his collection to others, his legacy as the engine behind the formation of the IJA is strong. He was named an Honorary Life Member of the IJA in 1973.
Joe Pegnato was born in 1924. As a juggler, he went by the name Bobby Jule. He was in his hometown Pittsburgh for the IBM convention in 1947 and performed as part of the juggling session on the day the IJA was formed. He was actually present at the 1947 lunch when the group was formed, but left early for a gig before the business progressed further to actually create the organization. He was one of the five additional jugglers who ratified the IJA’s constitution and became one of the charter members of the IJA. Bobby enjoyed a long juggling career in America, Europe, and around the world. Bobby has attended the last two Not Quite Pittsburgh Juggling Festivals and is still an inspiration to many jugglers today. You can read more about Bobby’s impressive career by clicking here to read a recent eJuggle article by David Cain. Even if you have read the article previously, be sure to check out a video of Bobby’s TV appearance from 1957 which was recently added to the article. Bobby lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife.
Betty Gorham was born in 1931, and began juggling at age 13. By age 14, she was already juggling clubs and had been brought to the attention of jugglers through Montandon’s Bulletin. In February 1946, she began writing letters and columns for The Juggler’s Bulletin on a regular basis. She loved corresponding with jugglers and then reporting back the latest news. Once the IJA was formed, she was not only the first female to join, but the first person period. As Member #1, Betty brought a welcomed youthful exuberance and feminine touch which was opposite of most of the founders and charter members. She continued supplying material for the Juggler’s Bulletin and then its replacement, the IJA Newsletter.
After graduating school, Betty became a full time juggler, performing in nightclubs, fairs, circuses and on TV. She performed with spinning balls, clubs, rings, devil stick, and tennis rackets. Betty was a regular at many early IJA conventions and served as an officer. In 1961, she met Ken Willer, a hand balancer, and they were married the next year. They continued to perform separate and together for a number of years thereafter, and are still a happy and loving couple today. Betty was made an Honorary Life Member of the IJA back in 1996. Betty lives in California with her husband.
Watch the following video of the 1950 IJA Convention with Betty juggling clubs and doing ball spinning.
Bill Dietrich likely holds the records for most IJA conventions/festivals attended and for the largest span between first and latest festival attended. Bill, born in 1930, was at the first several IJA Conventions, dating back to 1948, and is still attending juggling festivals as of 2015. Bill has never missed any of the 38 RIT festivals. Many current jugglers know Bill for his blue jumpsuit and incredible juggling (6 rings / 5 clubs) for a man in his 80s. In the early days of the IJA, Bill was one of the younger influences and was known for his non-stop juggling and enthusiastic love of the art. Bill served as an officer in the early IJA and was made an Honorary Life Member back in 1979! Though Bill never was a full-time professional juggler, he did perform frequently and has been an inspiration to many jugglers over the years. Bill currently lives in Erie, PA was his wife.
Click here to watch Bill do ball bouncing and 5 ring juggling at the age of 80 in 2010.
Within the first year of the IJA’s existence, Joe Taylor joined and became the organization’s first black member. Joe had answered a response in Montandon’s Bulletin asking if there were any jugglers of color, and his response was chronicled in the same issue of the Bulletin announcing the creation of the IJA. He performed in the black Vaudeville circuit and gained fame as one of the featured performers with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American Baseball League. The Clowns were famous for combining variety arts with the baseball game to provide a unique entertainment experience for the fans. Joe juggled bats, clubs, and balls as part of his act with the Clowns, and included even more items in his normal routines. Joe currently lives in New York City. I’m hoping to do a separate article and interview with Joe Taylor to appear in eJuggle later this year.
Stuart Raynolds was also at the first IJA Convention in 1948. Though just a teenager, he was a very strong technical juggler. He had befriended prop maker Harry Lind, and his interest in creating a better club dominated much of his adulthood. While he was part time performer, often with his mentor Art Jennings, he also became a research fellow at Du Pont. Raynolds applied his scientific knowledge and skills in creating fiberglass clubs which replaced wood clubs as the primary prop for serious jugglers in the 1960s until plastic clubs were developed and refined. Raynolds served the IJA as President in the 1950s, Convention Co-chair in 1977, and was a large financial supporter of the organization in its early days. Stu was recognized as an Honorary Life Member in 1979.
While the six above individuals may be some of the oldest living IJA members with a history reaching back to the very early days, there are others that have a long history with the organization and who have likewise provided much support, leadership, dedicated work, and encouragement to the membership over the years. No list like this could be exhaustive, and I apologize for those left out, but I encourage everyone to remember and appreciate the following individuals as well for laying the foundation for the organization it is today: Roger Dollarhide, Art Jennings, Jr., Mary Wilkins, Tommy Curtin, Hovey Burgess, Dick Franco, Dennis Soldati, Karl-Heinz Ziethen, Hermann Sagemuller, Jay Green, Ken Benge, Judy Finelli, Bill Barr, Paul Bachman, Martin Frost, Braidy Brown, Don Lewis, Bill Giduz, and Gene Jones.
In the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding or talking with Roger Montandon, Betty Gorham-Willer, Ken Willer, Joe Taylor, Bobby Jule, and Bill Dietrich. I’ve communicated my appreciation to them for all that they have done, on behalf of me and the IJA. They all have fond memories of the IJA and are proud of the legacy they have left behind.