By Marguerite Sand
Times-Union Women's Editor
For 20 years, in the early part of the century, John (Jack) Vampner, of 919 Sheridan road, lived a life colored with grease paint. Save as a spectator, the average individual knows little of the excitement of the entertainment world. Jack, as he is called by all his friends, appeared on the stage at a time when one specialty was not enough. You had to have a number of accomplishments-juggling, singing, dancing-or you couldn't make the grade as an entertainer. His wife, Wilma, to whom he has been married 46 years, come October, knows what it is to stay at home and wait, or travel the one-night stand circuit with her husband.
Jack's parents were W. M. and Susan Vampner, of Claypool. His father was a woodworker and wagon maker. Two different times the family lived on what is now the Henry Boggs farm, one half mile east of Tibbetts school where Jack got his education.
Mrs. Vampner is the former Wilma Fisher daughter of Charles and Lavina Fisher of Lake township. Her father operated the general store at Packerton and farmed. It was at her father's store that Jack and Wilma first met. At that time he had been in show business seven years.
It was quite by accident that Jack entered the entertainment field. One day as he and a friend, A. M. Boyer of Larwill, were walking down a lane, Boyer, a contortionist said, "I think you would make a good contortionist. Try this." He bent forward resting his hands flat on the ground, keeping the legs straight. Jack, who was at the time 15, could do it with ease.
Thus began a career, that was to continue for two decades. For a year Boyer and the 16-year-old novist, Jack, traveled with tent shows, made one-night to two-week stands with independent vaudeville. Boyer was a back bender, Jack a front bender. They changed their act every night, hitting towns in three states -Indiana, Illinois, Iowa.
That first year the two did the "Chinese Table," a double act and a brother (tumbling) act. After that, Jack went it alone, traveling with at least 20 of the earlier shows. His contortionist routine always got the best hand, however he was no slouch at chair balancing on bottles, comedy routines, dancing, playing instruments and singing. In days when people traveled little, he came to know places and people throughout 15 states.
With the advent of the motor vehicle, Jack traveled in summer with truck shows, worked in summer one-week stands with medicine shows in places similar to the old Opera House formerly located at the corner of Market and Indiana streets. He learned to become a quick change artist and to care for a large wardrobe.
The food was good. Hotel accommodations certainly did not come up to modern standards, what with a pitcher and bowl for bathing facilities and outdoor toilets.
Jack has had but seven lessons on the violin, yet he can play the mandolin, guitar, banjo, sleigh bells, musical funnels, the marimba and xylophone. He quit show business five times. I sensed he had not lost his love for the stage and bright lights. In the 1930's residents of this area will remember that the Warsaw String Trio-Jack, Herschel Campbell, Harold Smythe had their own program each week on WOWO. [Radio station in Fort Wayne]
In those early years, $15 a night was good pay for a performer. Tent shows paid less-$18 a week, plus 10 percent on all reserve seat sales. During his career as a novelty performer, Jack's wife, Wilma, worked in winter, went with him in summer. She has known him 50 years. "We have had our ups and dowsn, but we are together. That's what counts," Mrs. Vampner said.
At the turn-of-the-century, people looked askance that professional performers. Mrs. Vampner's parents did not like the idea of her marrying a "stage fellow." Fact of the matter is, neither had their parents' blessing in the beginning, as Jack's folks disapproved of his calling also.
Upon Jack's retirement from the stage, he and his wife moved to Sidney, where he operated the Cloverleaf Creamery and poultry exchange. Mrs. Vampner worked for the Lafayette Paulus general store and later kept books for the Sidney canning factory.
Since coming to Warsaw, Jack has worked at the Liberty and Favorite cafes. When he decides he has had enough indoor confinement he takes outside jobs. In former years he painted for the late George Gill.
Jack is affiliated with the Eagles lodges and the Masonic Order. His wife is an Eastern Star. Both have been members of the First Brethren church for the past 35 years.
|Regular Indian Rubber Man - Jack Vampner, pictured here, in typical pose in contortionist act, is still a very limber and agile person for his age. The last time he tried the split at the age of 62 he could do it with ease. Suffering some twinges later, he has attempted it since.|
|Vampners at home - Jack and Wilma Vampner are pictured above as they relax in yard at their home on Sheridan road.|
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