Things are never quite what they seem around Rob Lake. That’s just the way he likes it. Lake’s life of illusion began years ago when a 10-year-old Norman boy, Robert William Calonkey, visited Branson, Mo., with his family. He attended a show by magician Kirby VanBurch and was so impressed, the boy stood in line to get an autograph. He told the performer, "Now I want to be a magician.”
The boy took a magic class, and year after year he would return to marvel at VanBurch’s illusions. Eventually, VanBurch began to recognize the boy and his passion. "That’s when he realized it was more than just a hobbyist interest and just a phase or a cool thing,” Calonkey said. Or, rather, Lake said. Actually, Lake is the magician that Calonkey became. A good one. Lake, as he’s now known, recently was honored by the International Magicians Society with a Merlin Award as the International Stage Magician of 2008. For a magician, said Lake, 25, the Merlin is "the gold medal of the Olympics, the Oscar, the Tony, the Emmy.” As a boy, Robert Calonkey was into swimming and track, said his father, Steve Calonkey, who owns Mr. Robert, a furniture store his father started in downtown Norman. Along with his younger sister, Katelynn, Robert "enjoyed entertaining,” putting on plays with neighborhood children, Steve Calonkey said. "They were always doing something.” For magic tricks, Katelynn would serve as Robert’s assistant. After VanBurch realized how serious Robert Calonkey was about magic, the magician would spend hours coaching the boy in his magic shop. "He’d give me homework,” Lake said. "He’d say, ‘Before you come back next year, I want you to read these things and do these things.’” Through the year, the magician and his protege would write each other. When Calonkey turned 18, VanBurch suggested Calonkey come to Branson to work on his magic full-time. But Calonkey decided he would "try college first” and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in health and sports science. Already an adept magician, Calonkey would perform before civic groups and company functions, but he had to turn down many other offers to keep up with school work. When he turned 20, he decided to spend a summer in Branson studying with VanBurch.
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