When Laura Anderson took her clown act on the road to tornado-torn Parkersburg, Iowa, a couple of years ago, she was told about a 5-year-old who quit talking after the storm.
She didn’t forget the story, nor did she forget the impact she had on traumatized kids — long after the storm had passed.
“I went to the town library to entertain the kids,” the East Moline woman said, pausing to wait for the lump to leave her throat. “I was told it was the first time the kids had acted like kids since the tornado.”
Almost immediately after the May 22 storm that wiped out much of Joplin, Mo., including two elementary schools, Anderson began looking for ways to put her talents as a clown/children’s entertainer to good use. She found a way, with the help of magician and balloon artist Rick Eugene Brammer of Davenport.
Anderson, Brammer and three others are leaving around midnight Sunday to make the 500-mile drive to Joplin to try to bring smiles to the faces of children who have had little to smile about. At least 155 people died in the storm and countless homes and businesses were destroyed.
When Brammer made contact with officials from the Joplin School District, he said, he instantly got the impression the Quad-City contingent could make a difference — even if it’s just for one day.
“When I told them what we do, they were thrilled,” he said. “They said, ‘These kids really need a smile.’
“They’re basically letting us take over the school for the day.”
Brammer is a dealer in children’s books. He contacted Rick Rayburn, a co-worker in Edwardsville, Ill., who is a children’s musician.
“He said, ‘My God. I’d love to go,’ ” Brammer recalled.
Casey Owens, communications specialist for the Joplin School District, said she was not particularly surprised to hear that a group of clowns and magicians from Iowa and Illinois wanted to visit the school children.
“Since the tornado, nothing’s unusual,” she said. “This is going to be an amazing treat for our students — to kind of lighten the mood. It’s been such a serious time. We welcome a lightening of the mood here.”
In addition to two grade schools being destroyed, Owens said, one of the three middle schools is unusable, the high school and technical center are gone, and the administrative center sustained major damage.
Also going along for the smile delivery to Joplin is teenage magician Levi Samuelson of Geneseo, Ill., and Patti Atobelli-Williams, a balloon artist from Orion, Ill.
“This is really a whirlwind for me,” Anderson said. “I’ve been wanting to go to Joplin for about a month. Now, all of a sudden, we’re leaving Monday. We wanted to take more people, but some of them just didn’t have the money to take off and go with us.”
Besides, Brammer’s van already will be packed. In fact, the group considered holding a donation drive but realized space already will be tight with five people, costumes and props. They also will be short on time, planning to make the return drive home after spending the day entertaining.
“It’s what we have to offer,” Anderson said.
“With what they’ve gone through down there, our giving one day is nothing,” Brammer added.
When the makeshift elementary school ends for the day at 2 p.m., the entertainers will divide into two groups and take their talents to the nearby Boys & Girls Club of Joplin and the Joplin Family YMCA.
“I’ve heard so many sad stories, and I’m told no one’s got anything to smile about down there,” Brammer said. “I think this is why they’re turning the school and the day over to us.”
Though the group lacks space for donations, they are urging Quad-Citians to make cash donations to the Joplin School District, Joplin Family YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club of Joplin. Visit www.joplinmo.org to donate online. Donations with checks made out to those organizations also can be mailed to: Clown-A-Round Inc., 307 17th Ave., East Moline, IL, 61244.
“Checks can be mailed to but not made out to Clown-A-Round Inc.,” Anderson said. “We would be happy to deliver checks, but please do not make them out to us.”