Oct. 23—Barry Spencer first donned a clown uniform when he was 10-years-old.
His dad, who was a past Rizpah Shriner president, hosts a Shriners Clown college. So clowning, and specifically Shrine Clowning is a legacy.
"I have been doing this for 30 years or so," he said at this year's Reid's Orchard Apple Fest, where the Owensboro Shrine Club was entertaining the crowd and twisting balloons for children.
The Owensboro Shrine Club belongs to the Rizpah Madisonville Temple. There are four Shrine temples in Kentucky, Spencer said.
Jerry Maggard, Owensboro Shrine Club president, said the self-sufficient group has one goal: to support hospitals. The Owensboro Shrine Club sends 100% of the funds it raises to several hospitals, including Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, the St. Louis Children's Hospital, the Kentucky Children's Hospital in Lexington, and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
There are about 20 Shriners in Owensboro. Their motto is "Having fun, helping children," which goes back to the beginnings of the Rizpah Shriners tenets.
Shriners International is a fraternity based on Masonic principles that has history in the U.S. dating back to 1870. The fraternity traditionally has supported hospitals, specifically children's hospitals. The organization also has its own Shriners Children's Hospital, which provide a variety of children for any child under 18-years-old.
Part of their support includes providing transportation for children to hospitals for health care.The Shriner clowns also provide entertainment and joy for children in need of a laugh or two.
Shriners also earn money for the upkeep of the medical facilities. They never ask for funds, but put out a tip jar at events.
Decades ago Maggard's mother had been a patient at a Shriners Hospital. She took two trips by train from eastern Kentucky to Louisville for treatment of a leg infection when she was 3 or 4 years old.
"They put a tag on her from a train in Hazard to Louisville," he said.
Maggard's story is not unlike other Shriner Clowns. Many who benefited from the organization like to come back and volunteer for it so it can benefit other children in need.
He already had interest in becoming a Shriner clown before he learned of his mother's backstory with the organization.
That just made his decision sweeter, he said.
Maggard's clown alias, Shabby, was born in 2006. He found clothes from thrift stores, and sought help from friends to sew patches on them. He loves clowning, and enjoys helping children and families.
"It really warms your heart," he said.