One might think it difficult to master the roles of both bawdy saloon singer and circus clown, but Celeste “Sally” Gagliardi had the chops and sunny attitude to pull it off.
She was happiest, family members say, when entertaining kids, and kept at it long after being honored for her antics.
“I have always loved children and I always loved clowns,” Gagliardi told the Star Tribune in 1987. “You put the two together and you always get fun.”
Gagliardi, 68, of Mahtomedi, who also was a Klondike Kate of St. Paul Winter Carnival legend, died unexpectedly on Jan. 28, and was remembered Saturday in a service at Hazel Park Congregational Church on the city’s East Side.
She was a member there when she first slapped on grease paint to begin a career as a professional clown, which she made part of the church’s ministry, too.
Gagliardi, a graduate of Harding High, was one of seven children whose father worked at 3M Co.
In the early 1980s, she saw a group of “Christian clowns” perform at a church camp in Alexandria, and decided to get in on the action.
She created several characters, among them Arcobalano, a white-faced clown with bulbous red nose, and Uncle Freddie Nando, a tramp with an Italian accent said to hail from Santa Lucia, Italy.
When interviewed by the Star Tribune in 1987, Gagliardi was helping candy stripers train as clowns at the former St. John’s Eastside Hospital in St. Paul.
By then, Gagliardi had performed at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., and within the next year, she would be inducted into the Midwest Association Clown Hall of Flame.
In January 1990, Gagliardi, then 41, set aside her clown colors to put on a black gown and vie for the title of Klondike Kate. She won with a boisterous song-and-dance version of “If They Could See Me Now.”
It was her fourth try for the crown, and one for which Gagliardi took no chances, having stacked the crowd with cheering clowns.
“Inside, all women want to be thought of as sexy and desirable,” she said of herself and Klondike Kate. “And as a full-figured woman, hey, men miss out.”
Gagliardi is survived by her longtime companion Jim Peterson and her siblings, Dana (Linda) Gagliardi, Cozette Peterson, Gabrielle (Al) Louismet, Debra (Michael) Gennow, John (Michelle) Gagliardi and Michelle (David) Louismet.