For the love of laughter

For the love of laughter
Gator Clowns Sprinkles (Carole Jennings), Bounce Around (Robyn Fischer), Miss Clown (Martha Wyrick), Shorty (Sean Jennings) and Bow (Barbara Anderson)

Barbara Anderson of San Marco loves to make people laugh. For her it is not just a hobby or a pleasant thing to do, it’s her passion.

Anderson joined Gator Clowns in 1998 to provide an outlet for her mirth-making. Gator Clowns of Jacksonville is the oldest, active Clown Alley in North America, according to the group’s Facebook page. A nonprofit group with the mission to promote the “art of clowning,” the alley’s members educate themselves in “the art and enjoyment of clowning” to provide free services to civic, community and charity organizations.

Now retired after 38 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, much of that time as an engineer technician, Anderson can be found at Corps family events and other Jacksonville charity functions as her alter-ego, Bow, dreaming up fun stories to accompany a child’s specific face-painting request. 

Anderson is one of those who, although officially a volunteer clown for almost 20 years, said she has really been an “undercover clown” her whole life. Always sensitive to others’ emotions, especially in serious and difficult situations, such as emergency operations after a natural disaster, Anderson has used her clowning skills to lighten the mood in off-beat but respectful ways. 

Recently Anderson was walking in a San Marco round-about when she noticed a mom trying to keep up with her two kids, one on a skate board, going a different direction than his sister. Anderson said she helped the boy pretend his skateboard was a sleigh and he was a reindeer so they could catch up with his sister, who they pretended was Mrs. Claus. The mom was so grateful, she said.

“I’m not the best face-painting artist, but I always have a fun story to share,” said Anderson. “Clowning – undercover or as Bow – is a relief valve. Injecting humor to lighten someone’s load is something we all need.”

San Jose resident Pat Dedicos, aka Cricket, joined Gator Clowns in 2011. After a year of training and performing, as required, she also joined the Wolfson Children’s Hospital auxiliary group. Here she volunteers in various capacities, including helping with fundraisers and also clowns as part of Wolfson’s clown unit called the Goofie*atrics.

A retired librarian with the school district, Dedicos said she joined the alley because she wanted to continue working with young children. When she saw a feature about Gator Clowns on the news one day, she realized this was the perfect thing for her to do. 

“When I learned clowning, my whole life changed, because no matter the activity, you get so much more back than you give,” said Dedicos. “It is the biggest blessing; I might be tired or down in the dumps, but I put my clown face on and my day turns around.” 

So enthralled, in her second year Dedicos became Gator Clown’s First Vice President in charge of scheduling their events. 

A big occasion for the Gator Clowns each December is entertaining foster children at their annual Christmas party at the zoo. “Sometimes when face painting a child at this event, you can feel their need to be loved and when they stand up to go they reach back and give you a tight hug,” said Dedicos. “It’s such a sweet moment knowing that a little thing as painting some flowers on a cheek brought them so much joy.”

Incoming Gator Clown President Carole Jennings, aka Sprinkles, feels clowning makes her a better person and gives her a more enjoyable life. 

“Being a clown has taught me new and interesting ways to bring joy to people which makes me happier,” said Jennings, an Arlington resident. “The more you serve others the less time you have to think about yourself, which improves the quality of your life. Like our motto states, ‘Clowning is an art from the heart.’”

Jennings, retired from claims work with Aetna Insurance, and her husband Sean, or Shorty, a Vietnam Army veteran, started clowning at the same time as Dedicos. They enjoy the variety of causes they serve and places they visit with Gator Clowns – from marathons and church festivals to nursing homes and children’s hospitals. 

“Once you learn proper clowning procedures, make-up, and other skills you can also clown on your own for any group fundraiser, marathon or wherever you want to help,” said Jennings. 

That’s what Jennings does with her friend Mary Ann Fennell, or Chatter Box, who weekly volunteers at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care by sitting in the lobby in character, painting faces and sharing smiles. 

“Here in Jacksonville, we’re lucky to have one of the oldest clown schools, called “alleys,” in the entire U.S. with hundreds of members that promote laughter, share their skills and ultimately make our community a better place to live,” said Jennings. 

Everyone can learn to be a clown, she said. Gator Clown members ages range from 8 to 80, but when they transform into their chosen characters, with makeup and costume, they are ageless. Clowning around helps to lighten a person’s load and enables them to forget about their troubles in the process, she said.

Sometimes the tables are turned. At an outdoor school event, Jennings had a difficult time painting a boy’s face because it was so cold and damp. When he looked in the mirror at her work he promptly said, “You probably need to apply yourself more.” She’s still laughing about that one.

At Gator Clown school, which starts April 7, several essentials are taught, including the history of clowning, clown etiquette and rules, makeup application, how to design your look based on the type of clown you choose to be (hobo, white face or auguste – the fool or joker clown), face painting, balloon sculpting and skit preparation, she said.

To learn more about Gator Clown School call 1-800-735-0747.

By Christina Swanson
Resident Community News

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