The following historical narrative features general information about the history of Clown Camp®, as well as many inserted articles, letters, poems, stories, and ideas submitted by both instructors and participants. Each inserted copy is in italic type, and is followed by the writers name, and their hometown, state or country.
The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Clown Camp® program began as an offspring of evening Continuing Education clown classes. Beginning in 1980, Dr. Richard Snowberg taught evening clown classes to area adults. These classes received some coverage in the Midwest Clown Association’s The Three Ring News. As a result, the Continuing Education office began receiving requests from individuals outside of the greater La Crosse area who desired an intensive one-week program that they could attend. At that time, the only on campus summer non-credit offerings were all summer camps. Thus, the name Clown Camp® was born.
Clown Camp® began in 1981 with 35 persons in attendance. Much excitement was generated, because attendees came from as far away as Detroit and Kansas City. The instructors at the first year’s program were Warren “Buddy” Boelter, Betty “Pee Wee” Cash, Gene “Cousin Otto” Lee, Bruce “Blinky” Nelson, Richard “Snowflake” Snowberg, and Michael “Bingo” O’Shaughnessy. Participants stayed in the Coate Residence Hall, and all classes were held in the basement of this building. The first camp store was located in the tv lounge. First year participants who will later became staff were Tom Cline, Al Fast, Paul Glaros, David Heim, Kim McRae, and Dorothy Miller. Walkaround competition was held at La Crosse’s Valley View Mail. Participants were judged while actually entertaining mall customers.
The university assumed that Clown Camp® would be a one-time affair, not an annual event. However at the conclusion of the 1981 program, participants all agreed that they (a) did not want to go home, and (b) definitely wanted to return again next year. Thus began the plans to host yet another program in 1982. This program had 50 persons in attendance. In 1983 the enrollment climbed to 80, and in 1984 Clown Camp® attracted over 100 attendees.
During these first early years of the program, there were no other similar programs in existence. The once exception was Ringling Bros. Clown College, which was very restrictive in terms of the number of persons admitted. Furthermore these individuals had to agree to accept a circus contract and travel with the big show, if they met the standards needed for such entertainers.
Clown education at clown conventions was very minimal. The major conventions focused more on competition, social events, and clown merchandise sales. Three or four lectures were not uncommon at an entire convention around 1980. When clown associations did increase membership exposure to educational sessions they were often commercial in nature, or provided by volunteers willing to teach a class, often in exchange for free or discounted registration. (In many cases this practice is still in place today. That is the reason that the overall quality of lectures can’t compare to what is offered at Clown Camp®.)
In 1982 Al Fast, Paul Glaros, Jeff McMullen, and Earl Chaney were on staff for the first time. Classes are no longer held in the residence hall, but instead in North Hall-later to be re-named Wimberly Hall. The camp store was also located in this building. As was done in the previous year, each morning featured a single staff member. Each started by applying their make-up, and then proceeded to both lecture and perform before the entire group of participants. Several practical jokes were played on some of the instructors. One had everyone walk out of the room five minutes into a general session by Al Fast. Another day everyone pretended to fall asleep in the session by Paul Glaros.
In 1983 David Ginn and Steve Smith are on staff for the first time. The nine-projector slide show is introduced. Clown Alleys, small groups like homerooms, are established. Ruth “Twinkletoes” Winblad, 79 years old, attends for the first time. (At the age of 90, she attended the 15th Anniversary week, and attended, at age 100 the program’s 25th anniversary year of Clown Camp®.)
Later in 1983 Clown Camp® sponsored the Caribbean Clown Cruise aboard the S.S. Norway. Warren Boelter and Richard Snowberg served as instructors for this event. Roger Grant worked as the Clown Camp® photographer for the first time on the cruise. Some of the onboard entertainers provided guest lectures especially for the clown attendees.
1984 saw new instructors Barry DeChant, Leon McBryde, Kim McRae, Bob Gibbons, and Cathy Gibbons on staff for the first time.
In 1985 David Heim, Jay Choutka, Dorothy Miller, and Janet Tucker were on staff for the first time. Clown Camp® is extended to two one-week sessions. During the second week, half of each day is spent in a workshop led by Steve Smith. Clown Camp® staff and participants take part in the June Dairy Days festival in West Salem for the first time.
In the mid 1980′s, when camp enrollments began to skyrocket, with over 300 persons attending in a single week, it was determined to begin offering more than one week of summer programming. Likewise, the university was able to begin increasing the salaries of camp instructors, to a level commensurate with their abilities. In 1986, when Lou Jacobs came to Clown Camp®, he was paid $1000 a day-the most money he had ever earned for a single day’s employment.
In 1986 Owen Anderson, Don and Dee Burda, and Mark Anthony are on staff for the first time. A pre-camp for new clowns is held. Barry DeChant puts on the worse make-up he can, and wanders silently into the make-up session. He stands by while the rest of the staff tries to tactfully tell him what improvements can be made. In addition to teaching and performing, Mark Anthony carves a basket elephant while participants observe. Don “Bo Dino” Weiss is scheduled to be on staff, but is killed in an auto accident. His widow donates his props, which are auctioned off. The funds raised are used to start the World Clown Association Bo Dino Scholarship. This was the first year that an auction was held at Clown Camp®.
The opening session is a demonstration of walkaround gags by Mark Anthony, Al Fast, Kim McRae, Leon McBryde and other staff members. David Ginn playing Mrs. Earl Chaney in a Newlywed sketch, wears a pink dress purchased at a thrift store. The dress was then donated to the camp auction, and modeled by Richard Snowberg. Each year it is donated back to the auction by the previous year’s purchaser, and a different staff member models it. Through the years, thousands of dollars have been raised for charity using this dress.
A post-camp seminar featuring David Ginn and a post-camp canoe outing were offered. In 1986, following Clown Camp®, the first Laugh-Makers Conference is held at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Bruce Johnson taught at the college for the first time.
The first Clown Camp® on the Road program (1986), hosted by Don Gonzales, was held in San Diego, CA. The program started on a Friday evening and ended Sunday at noon. Richard Snowberg, Leon McBryde, and David Ginn were the instructors. Following this initial program, dozens of such weekend seminars were held throughout North America over the next ten years.
In 1987 Jim Howle, Tricia Manuel Bothun, Lou Jacobs, and Michael Polokov were on staff for the first time. Mark Anthony, Lou Jacobs, and Michael Polokov, former RBB&B clowns and future Clown Hall Of Fame Inductees, demonstrate how they applied their make up and told stories about their experiences from a combined 200 years as clowns. Carlotta Payton, living in Italy, is the first overseas staff member. Leon McBryde and Barry De Chant become Assistant Directors of Clown Camp®.
The Wishland Pony Express, a gift granting organization, was organized in 1987. A major portion of its initial funding comes from Clown Camp®. In the next seven years over $15,000 will be donated by Clown Camp® participants through auctions, shirt and ID card sales. Clown Camp® staff members Bob Milisch and Richard Snowberg join pediatricians, medical educators, social workers, parents of past recipients, nurses, and activity directors to form the board of directors of this new organization.
In 1988 Arthur Pedlar, Trevor Pharo, and Andrew Stevens were the first staff members from the United Kingdom. Other first time staff members were Paula Biggio, Terry Davolt, Irene Doll, and Bob Milisch. Mark Anthony and Lou Jacobs are again on staff. Jim Howle unveils the first three portraits in his Red Nose Philosopher series of prints honoring instructors who teach at Clown Camp®. Clown Camp® participants chose the subjects the previous year. The first three honored were Richard Snowberg, Barry DeChant, and Patricia Manuel Bothun. The prints are sold with an accompanying biographical sheet.
In 1989 Kenny Ahern, Brenda Johnson Ahern, and Huel Speight took a leave from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey Circus to serve on the Clown Camp® staff. Karen Hoyer, Randy Munson, and Peggy Williams were also on staff for the first time. Jim Howle added Don Burda, Dorothy Miller, and Arthur Pedlar to the Red Nose Philosopher series of prints.
Clown Camp® and the Clown Hall of Fame co-sponsored the International Clown Summit. About 60 clowns from around the world meet at an old Scottish palace for a week to discuss the future of clowning and to participate in community outreach activities. Following the summit, participants spent a week touring Great Britain and performed shows in Edinburgh, Southport, and London.
1990 was the tenth program year for Clown Camp®. Bonnie Donaldson, Bruce Johnson, Dale & Marion Landis, Ann Leske, Bill Lozon, Mary Beth Martin, Vince Pagliano, and Nicki Wilson were on staff for the first time. Multiple sessions were held in June, plus an additional week in August. Bruce Johnson premiered his Tramp Tradition Show as part of Clown Hall of Fame night at Clown Camp®. While Barry DeChant reads a voice over narration of historical information, Bruce recreated routines of famous tramp clowns. Slides of illustrations by Bruce Johnson show the clowns appearance. Jim Howle added Jim Howle and Steve Smith to the Red Nose Philosopher series of prints.
Mark Anthony passed away in 1990. A memorial service/celebration of Mark’s life was held during the August session of Clown Camp®. At Mark’s request, stuffed toys and helium balloons were donated instead of flowers. Following the service, these items were delivered to children in hospitals.
In 1991 Jack Anderson, Tom & Marianne Myers, Jack & Pat Frank, Linda Hulet, Arina Isaacson, Glenn Frosty Little, David Mitchell, Lee Mullally, Marcella Murad and Dena Piraino were on staff for the first time. Four one-week sessions were offered, and twenty-five staff members participate in one or more weeks. Stu Robertshaw, Dr. Humor, founder of the Association for the Humor Impaired, provided a laugh filled presentation each week. Each day three periods were devoted to weeklong courses. Jim Howle added Bruce Johnson and Irene Doll to the Red Nose Philosopher series of prints.
In 1992 Brenda Marshall and Jose Rivera are on staff for the first time. Leon McBryde left Clown Camp® to pursue his own projects. Irene Doll became Assistant Director with Barry De Chant. South African clown Piet Norte attended all four weeks. The first participants from New Zealand and Australia attend. Chris Montross, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, attended for the first time. At one of the open mike sessions, she read a poem she wrote titled Reflections Clown Camp® 1992. At the concluding ceremony she became part of a chorus that sang two songs she composed. One of them is titled “Clowns Are God’s People Too” Early morning and evening sessions are devoted to ‘Meet … (a staff member).’ These sessions are devoted to a performance or to questions and answers. Jim Howle adds Kenny Ahern to the Red Nose Philosopher series.
I took part in a ‘staff on stage’ make-up session. I applied my clown face on Jim’s (Howle) face while he applied his clown face on my face. It started out pretty normal, but towards the end it became ‘pretty messy’. It was so much fun that we did it again the following week, and the following week, and the following week. For those who don’t know, all the previous times that I have attended Clown Camp®, I stayed there for all four weeks. To use Jim’s words, ‘I am a slow learner.’
- Piet Nortje-Pretoria, South Africa
In 1993 Reverend Roly Bain, from England, and Ted “Suds” Sudbrack were on staff for the first time. Clown Camp® is expanded to five weeks. Barry De Chant ended his service as Assistant Director.
On his return flight, the airline wanted to charge Roly Bain more in excess baggage fees for his slack wire rigging then it was worth. He thus decides to leave the equipment in the United States- in storage for performances in this country and replaced it with new apparatus when he arrived home.
In 1994 Duane Lauflin, International President of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, was on staff. A track system of classes was introduced. Classes in the Otto track are for novice clowns. The Lou track had classes for advanced clowns. The Mark track had a more flexible choice of classes. The last session of the day was a venue course (walkaround, circus, ministry, caring clown, stage, etc.). The venue courses take the place of the alleys. Participants in each venue do an appropriate performance at the end of the week. For example, the walkaround venue students performed at a local mall. Jim Howle was the featured clown face on the logo for 1994. During a closing session, Brenda Marshall learned she has been elected President of Clowns of America International.
1995 was the 15th anniversary year of Clown Camp. There were three one-week sessions: a clown ministry emphasis week, a fifteenth anniversary reunion week, and a traditional week. The reunion week features over 50 staff members. Jackie Le Claire was on staff for the first time. In addition to appearances by staff and participants at June Dairy Days and the Circus World Museum, staff members perform two public shows benefiting the Wishland Pony Express. The campus participated in a massive pie fight billed as the world’s largest pie fight. The La Crosse fire department provides a pumper truck to hose down the participants. Late night sessions called “the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” were panel discussions on circus clowning, birthday parties, business, and memories of four Clown Hall of Fame Inductees, Gene Lee, Jim Howle, Steve Smith, and Arthur Pedlar. Roy ‘Cookie’ Brown was scheduled to be on staff for the reunion week, but is unable to attend for health reasons. During the opening ceremony for the week, Steve Smith paid tribute to Roy Brown. Also, during the opening ceremony, Dorothy Miller and Betty Cash are recognized for being involved in Clown Camp® as staff members or participants every year since the beginning. An Elderhostel version of Clown Camp® was held at the La Crosse campus concurrently with the traditional session. The clown likeness on the 1995 was one of Mark Renfro-who also created this year’s large sign. Irene Doll ended her service at Clown Camp® to pursue other projects.
In 1995 the first one-week Clown Camp® session was held off of the La-Crosse campus. This program is held at Medicine Hat College in Alberta, Canada. The program was a big success, and received tremendous local college support from the dean and other on-site staff members. One or more public shows were offered this and subsequent years.
In 1996 Lee Mullally became the Assistant Director of Clown Camp®. Weekend intensive classes were held after the final traditional week. The classes were Character Development, taught by Arina Issacson, Physical Comedy, taught by Kenny Ahern, Prop Construction, taught by Marc Renfro, and Caring Clowning, taught by Richard Snowberg. Participants selected two classes for in-depth study during the weekend. During the weekend, The Greatest Show On Earth is shown while Jackie LeClaire, who appeared in the film, provided a narration about the clowns and stars in the movie. He was also featured on that year’s logo for Clown Camp®. Mark Renfro’s sign that replicated the year’s logo artwork, came complete with flashing lights around the perimeter of the sign.
Back at Canada’s Medicine Hat College, an exhibition of Jim Howle’s art was shown in connection with Clown Camp® Canada. A scholarship fund, named after Richard Snowberg, was established for people interested in attending Clown Camp® Canada. The Staff On Stage sessions were introduced. Every morning and evening a different staff member performed a demonstration show.
In 1997 Nola Rae and Carole Johnson were on staff for the first time. In the evening, a prop shop was open where participants could build things they have learned about in classes. Piet Norte supervised the shop.
Jim Howle’s It’s Your Face is introduced during this year. For an additional fee, Jim created a make up design for a participant while being video taped. The participant receives the tape, which also included a make up demonstration segment. During the second week, Clown Camp® participants and staff perform at the La Crosse Cancer Survivors Celebration. Arthur Pedlar was the featured entertainer on the main stage. Clowns from Japan, England, and America perform a show on the children’s stage. Weekend intensive classes were again offered.
In 1998, England’s Nola Rae returned to camp for a more individualized program for students. For an additional fee, participants signed up to spend half of each day studying mime from Nola. These classes were held in a dance studio in the newly completed campus Eagle Recreation Center. Mike Bednarek, Rick Struve and Tammy Parish were on staff for the first time. The Open Sesame clown troupe from Japan performed a full evening stage show as a general session. Jim Howle added Lee Mullally to the Red Nose Philosopher’s series of prints. Betty Cash was featured on the 1998 logo.
In 1999 Bob and Theresa Gretton were on staff for the first time. Due to construction on campus, space was available for only one week of Clown Camp® at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse. Some of the instructors then left immediately for Medicine Hat College for Clown Camp® Canada-which was held the following week. At Clown Camp® Canada, Open Sesame performed a full evening stage show that was a tribute to Charlie Chaplin. Don Burda was featured on the 1999 logo.
Following the conclusion of the 1999 program, camp director Rich Snowberg began discussing the possibility of having a Clown Camp® website.
2000. The first week of UWL’s Clown Camp® was a Caring Clown and Beginners emphasis week. The second week was a traditional Clown Camp®. The third week was the 20th Anniversary Celebration. The Open Sesame clown troupe, from Japan, is on staff in La Crosse for the first time. Gigi, RONE, and Penny perform and taught movement classes. Other new staff members in 2000 included Korey Thompson, Mo Webb, Bob & Teresa Gretton and Terry Ricketts. On the night between the Traditional week and the Anniversary Reunion, Clown Camp® and University staff members joined in honoring Richard Snowberg on his retirement from the University.
The 20th Anniversary Celebration had an emphasis upon performances. Open Sesame performed their stage show, a tribute to Charlie Chaplin. The Triton Clowns, another clown troupe from Japan, performed a water safety clown show in the university’s swimming pool. Theme shows were presented each afternoon and evening. The themes included International Clowns, Musical Clowns, Ladies Night Out, Circus Clowns, Just For Fun, and International Clown Hall of Fame Inductees. For the Improvisation theme show, three teams received identical sets of common objects and created an act using them. The number of class sessions was limited during the Reunion Celebration. Each morning, participants choose between two lectures, a jam session (magic, balloons, paper, etc.), and viewing a video of highlights from a previous year. Fun events included a no mirror make up application competition, a ICHOF Inductee look alike competition, a history game show, and a Newlywed Game parody. Following the Newlywed Game, Don Burda went into the emergency room because he was not feeling well. Doctors diagnose a mild heart attack. He was admitted to the hospital and underwent a successful by-pass operation during the Reunion week. Whitney Food Service building underwent an extensive remodeling; so all meals and the camp store were relocated to Cartwright Center.
The last session of Clown Camp® Canada was held in Medicine Hat.
In 2001 four one-week programs were provided, with the fourth week being held in late July. The first week had a very restricted enrollment, with registrants taking two workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Twenty-eight instructors were presented in this year’s brochure. The program moved to be placed under the umbrella of the UWL Educational Studies Department. The remodeling in Whitney Center was now completed, thus the camp store food service was again relocated to this facility. This was the first year for the Clown Camp® program to have its own website. Don & Dee Burda, who had both have significant health problems during the past year, were welcomed back. RONE & Gigi were featured on this year’s camp logo.
In 2002 a foldout Clown Camp® brochure/poster was produced for the first time. Two program weeks were offered, June 8-14 and June 15-21. The second week had a special program for classroom teachers, Now That’s Fun: Injecting Humor in the Curriculum to Maximize Learning. These late programs caused some problems in gaining total access to some of the university facilities. RONE & Gigi returned from Japan, and Sam Tee, from Malaysia, made his first appearance as a staff member. John Rhodes made his first appearance as an instructor. Bonnie Donaldson and Bruce Johnson were featured on this year’s logo. This was the first time that two individual staff members were so honored. All registrants received a CD-ROM, featuring approximately 1000 pictures taken during the summer’s programs.
Following the weeklong program in La Crosse, an International Clown Summit was held in Dalkeith, Scotland. This program, held at the same palace as the 1989 Summit program, provided opportunities for discussions, classes, and visits within the community. Clowns appeared at local schools as well as in Edinburgh at the Sick Children’s Hospital. A day excursion to Blackpool provided participants the opportunity to see the famous Blackpool Tower Circus. Following the weeklong program in Scotland, 18 of the participants flew to London, where they embarked on a two-week European Capitols cruise. During this cruise, participants Kathy McLaughlin and Linda Kelly made caring clown visits in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 2004 new instructional staff members included John Blair, Pat Jannell, Kathy McLaughlin, Mary Lou Stasiek, and Pam Moody. A unique program track for community safety officers was provided. This program attracted mostly fire fighters from around the country, but also brought in some EMT’s and police officers. A program for the community was provided in Myrick Park, with participant performing at a variety of venues. Dave Mitchell’s Mr. Magish was the figure featured on this year’s logo. In 2004 the program changed from offering CD’s photos or the program week, to a DVD containing slide shows, with musical background, and individual images of every participant.
Late in 2004 Clown Camp® hosted its first programs in Asia. Classes and multiple performances were held in Singapore for one week. Then the staff traveled to Malaysia, where they took part in one major hospital appearance, and then went on to Kuala Lumpur for an instructional program. In that program several emergency relief workers were trained in using caring clown techniques. This program, in early December, was just about one month before the devastating tsunami disaster, where these recent camp attendees brought all of their skills to bear on a most difficult situation.
2005 was the occasion of Clown Camp®’s 25th anniversary of programming. A very large program was hosted at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where over 67 instructional staff members either provided classes, or attended as invited participants. There were a total of 340 participants during this May 28-June 3 program. Participants came from 38 states as well as Canada, England, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Bermuda, Australia and Malaysia. During the week the charity auction proved to be the most successful ever held, raising a total of $13,452.90. The total revenue realized from this and the Japan program was $236,963.
Variety performances were held each evening in the Main Hall Auditorium. Each show had a different theme, from International, to Ladies in Clowning, Circus Clowning, etc. One note of sadness occurred during the week when Don Burda suffered a heart attack. He underwent open-heart surgery and remained in La Crosse following the program where he recovered in the Snowberg’s home.
Two weeks later a very successful program was held in Nagoya Japan. A total of 61 attendees from North America traveled to Japan where they were joined with a large assembly of Asian clown attendees. Pleasure B’s “K” was the local host and provided great support via his huge staff. Three days of classes were held, and two days of visits, performances, and classes were held at the World Expo.
This year’s 25th anniversary logo featured the likeness of Rich Snowberg’s “Junior”.
The 2006 program had long-time International Clown Hall of Fame inductee Mark Anthony on that year’s artwork logo. Enrollment was down a bit with 146 attendees. Clowns in attendance arrived from 32 different states, as well as India, Japan, Canada and Malaysia.
In September a Florida program attracted 90 participants to Kissimmee, Florida. The participants in this 3-day session were able to take part in a clown visit to the Give Kids the World Village. Following this program, 18 of the participants went on to take part in a Caribbean cruise that departed from Tampa, Florida. Japan’s RONE, Gigi and Kathy accompanied the group and performed on the ship’s main stage.
In 2007 enrollments rebounded with 181 attendees. These persons came from 30 different states, as well as Canada, Mexico, Japan, Brazil and Malaysia. 93 participants enjoyed entertaining at the Celebration of Life-Cancer Survivorship Picnic at the La Crosse Center, and 25 clowns appeared at the pre-game festivities before the La Crosse Loggers baseball game in Copeland Park. A Jr. Joey program was held alongside the regular camp program for those under the age of 18. Participants in 2007 were the first attendees able to stay in the newly opened Reuter Hall. This facility provided suite style apartments, with elevators and air conditioning.
Following the week-long program, a day of post camp workshops attracted 84 persons. At the end of the day’s classes all participants and staff enjoyed an evening dinner cruise on the Mississippi River’s La Crosse Queen.
A very nice and complimentary article featuring Clown Camp® appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education newspaper.
2008 was the last Clown Camp® program held at UW-La Crosse. It was also the first year since 1986 that Don and Dee Burda were not able to attend. (Don passed away September 11, 2008.) Staff and participants held a special evening program to honor Dorothy Miller-our longtime instructor and cheerleader for the program. Slides, speakers, and gifts were shared during an evening of great memories. Her character “Blab-i-Gail” was featured on the 2008 camp logo.
Registration had to be limited, with a waiting list established due to the housing restriction that was limited to no more than 200 persons in Reuter Hall. Registrants came from 30 states as well as Canada, Japan, South Africa, Barbados, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, Singapore.
In July of 2008 the university abruptly notified Clown Camp® that facilities could no longer be made available to continue to program. The stated reason was one of liability. Future programs would need to be re-located to other off campus facilities. The program offices had to be shut down, and all personal items, as well as remaining supplies and equipment were to be removed from the two campus storage facilities, and the two offices. Over 160 cases of items were packaged and removed from campus by the second week of August. Left behind as property of the university were computers, five printers, filing cabinets, storage cabinets, office furniture, video equipment, digital cameras, display systems, unicycles, and office supplies.
Two 2009 Clown Camp programs will be held: one at La Crosse’s Viterbo University, and the second at The Villages, a central Florida retirement community. This year we are celebrating Arthur Pedlar’s 60th year of clowning by featuring three of his clown likenesses on the program logo. This English clown and his partner, Alan Whiteley are sharing the stage and classroom at both of the 2009 programs.