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Mill Race Clowns land STAR role at Southside Elementary

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FOR 15 minutes each day, the students of Southside Elementary get a break from traditional school lessons right after lunch during their STAR period. Originally known as Sit Together and Read, STAR has expanded to other fun, enrichment and educational activities.

While one day each week is still devoted to reading together and another is scheduled for walking, Southside Principal Joel Metzler said the remaining weekday slots are filled with a variety of activities, planned by teacher assistants and other staff members.

Send in the clowns.

Southside students sat in the school’s commons one recent school day, giggling at the antics of four visiting clowns who used silliness to quickly win over skeptical or even fearful children.

Wearing a curly, red wig, rubber nose, mismatched clothes and yellow hat, Bob Calderone slipped into his clown character Bampaw.

He and fellow clowns Pat Eads (Pokie Dottie), Carolyn Shockley (Dottie) and Rushh Reynolds (Cletus) cracked corny jokes, pretended to read minds and popped each other with powder-filled pillows during a series of mini performances at Southside Elementary School.

The two men and two women, all over age 60, are members of the Mill Race Clowns and give occasional performances around the area.

“I enjoy the kids,” said Calderone, an Arvin Industries retiree. “They’re easy to make laugh.”

Well, not everyone.

The toughest audience of the day was the sixth-graders. But by the end of the performance, they were clapping and laughing at the silly jokes, including how a pack of gum “turned into candy” when dropped to the floor.

“Gum drop,” Clown Cletus said with a grin.

When 5-year-old Leylani Hawley hesitantly walked into the commons, she was unsure what to think about the makeup-covered, colorfully clothed characters.

But at the end of the show, the kindergartner was one of the first to thank the clowns and lead a group hug.

“I liked when they hit each other with the pillow,” Hawley said.

You don’t see that in school every day.

The clowns welcome the opportunity to give local students a few laughs in the middle of the day, but they also slipped in a lesson about the history of clowns.

Reynolds talked about the various types of clowns and why they wore different styles of clothing and makeup. He also tested them later to see what they remembered.

“Good job, clowns!” said second-grader Sierra Jackson, whose classmates agreed as they stood and applauded at the end of the performance.

Reynolds, a Whiteland resident, is the veteran clown performer in the Mill Race group and comes from a family of clowns that includes a daughter, granddaughter and sister. His late wife also was a clown.

He has learned to tailor material to certain age groups and gathers some of his skits, jokes and one-liners from clown conventions.

The Columbus group, which includes two other members, gets together occasionally to work on their skits and determine what they think will make people laugh the most. They also have participated in area parades, including Ethnic Expo, Hope Heritage Days and Festival of Lights.

“It helps to be a kid at heart,” Eads said, who was a student herself in a clown class last June taught by Calderone and Shockley at Mill Race Center.

The clowns’ day ended appropriately, when a fire drill sounded and the clowns piled into their cars.

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