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Just clowning around: Grandparents and grandkids bond at Clown Academy

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With oversized shoes, a big nose and a lot of makeup, Bob Jensen of Princeton transformed into Friendly the Clown to entertain and teach students at the Clown Academy.

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For three years, Friendly has been teaching students about the art of clowning during the four-day program at Terrace Mill. This year, the class had 19 participants ranging in age from 6 years old to 77 years old.

From makeup application to clown personalities, the participants learn everything it takes to be a clown. They also choose clown names and start to develop characters.

"It's a lifelong adventure," Friendly said.

He spent many years trying to find his true character, changing his name and appearance multiple times along the way. Four years ago, he finally got it right with Friendly -- a hobo clown with a big personality.

"When he transformed himself into Friendly the Clown, it was so magical and so unique that I knew I had my professor," said Richard Grella, president of the Terrace Mill Foundation. Grella started the clown academy three years ago as a way to get people of all ages interacting together.

This year's class was conducted last week.

While clowning around, participants are able to bond and form friendships. For some, it's a time to bond with grandchildren.

"It's something we can do together and share a fun time, laughs and new memories," said Lynda Searcy of Glenwood, who enrolled with her granddaughter, Sydney Blair, 11.

Blair participated in the clown academy with a few friends last year, so she arrived ready for a good time wearing oversized blue shoes, which she received from Friendly. She chose Squiggles as her clown name.

Searcy said she can see Blair becoming a clown in the future.

"She always makes people laugh," Searcy said. "She's been entertaining people for quite some time."

Blair's outgoing and friendly personality shows through even without silly makeup, colorful clothes and big shoes. She shows her cattle at the county fair and volunteers at a nursing home playing piano.

Everyone at the nursing home loves her, Searcy said.

Another young participant, Lars Heinecke, 10, also has a big personality.

"My name is just going to be Lars because I'm already a clown," he said.

On the second day of class, Heinecke's trickster personality came out when he bopped Friendly with a plastic bat; Friendly got him back by squirting him with water.

Heinecke participated in the clown academy with his sister Inga, 8, and his grandfather Ernie Tharaldson of Graceville.

"My grandpa thought he was just going to be driving us, but when he got here, he found out he was signed up too," Lars said with a laugh.

Tharaldson wasn't entirely thrilled at that news. "It's been fun though," he said.

His favorite part was observing everyone, especially his grandkids, and watching them have a good time. One of his least favorite parts was the makeup application.

Each participant received a makeup kit and learned how to apply his or her own makeup. Participants were taught to use their middle finger to apply makeup because it's the longest finger and prevents smudging.

"We always start with the lightest color," Friendly said. "And never put paint on paint, unless it's accent lines."

Many participants found the makeup application very difficult.

"(Friendly) made it look so easy, but it really isn't easy," Searcy said.

On the final day, participants dressed in makeup and costumes to perform comical skits for the rest of the group. Along with a lot of laughs, the class provided participants with a few important lessons.

"Aside from the formal classes in clown ethics and makeup application, I witnessed the children learning self-discipline, respect for their elders and a sense of letting go of inhibitions and working as a team member of 'wanna-be clowns,'" said Grella, who was a student in the first Clown Academy.

He added that adults also benefitted from the class as they became less self-conscious and learned that not everything has to be perfect.

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