Many a child has threatened to run away and join the circus. Few chose to earn a master’s degree first. But Billy (William) Schultz ’48, MS’50 was one child in a billion. A champion athlete, entrepreneur, and teacher, Schultz made his greatest mark by running the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He staged the Great Circus Parade there, in Milwaukee, and in Chicago.
But he first leapt to fame in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The son of William Schultz, a teacher and former circus hand, Billy grew up entertaining others by performing feats of strength and agility. During World War II, he joined the marines, but most of the fighting he did was in front of fans: he helped to raise money for war bonds by boxing and wrestling against Hollywood stars, including John Wayne.
“I discovered it was easy,” he said, “and I could make a living at it.”
During World War II, he raised funds for war bonds by wrestling John Wayne.
After the war, he enrolled at UW–Madison, where he studied physical education and led the gymnastics team to a Big Ten title. During football and basketball games, he entertained halftime crowds with cartwheels and handstands — some performed on the rafters of the Wisconsin Field House.
Though the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus recruited him, Billy went to work for the YMCA after earning his master’s degree. And he won national championships in paddleball (1962) and racquetball (1968).
But eventually circus life called him back, and he bought Circus World in 1972 and the Great Circus Parade in 1980. He retired in 1984, only to enter his father’s field as a substitute teacher. By the time he died in 2009, he had navigated four careers.
Thank you to Manitowoc County for showmen like Billy Schultz, who used his talents to make the world a more entertaining place.