Jenny Wallenda, 87, the matriarch of the internationally famous family of high-flying circus performers, died late yesterday at her home in Sarasota, family members said. Wallenda's nephew, Rick Wallenda, said his aunt died following a lengthy illness. "She had a great life in entertainment, a very rewarding and rich life," he said. Wallenda was the oldest daughter of high wire walker Karl Wallenda and grandmother of daredevil performer Nik Wallenda. Jenny Wallenda's husband, Richard Faughnan, died in 1962 when a human pyramid collapsed. Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978.
Jenny Wallenda survived the invasion of Berlin by Soviet forces in 1947 and returned to the United States to perform with her family. Jenny Wallenda walked the high wire as an adult and performed on bareback horses as a child. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Wallenda advocated for causes important to the circus community in her later years and helped create the Circus Ring of Fame. She was inducted into the Ring of Fame in 2008. Nik Wallenda paid tribute to the woman he called "Oma" on his Facebook page. "She was an amazing woman who lived a truly incredible life. She will be missed everyday. Oma in your honor, I will never give up," he wrote. (Read more Nik Wallenda stories.)