Jim and Dorene Nielsen used to talk about how much fun they would have in their retirement years, but they never suspected they would really be "clowning" around.
For Jim, a retired IBM engineer, and Dorene, a retired medical technician, clowning has brought them some of the greatest joy in their lives.Clowning for Dorene, known as "Dunky Dory," has been an occupational hobby for more than six years. While living and working in San Jose, Calif., Dorene realized she was growing tired of her job that included drawing blood and giving physicals.
"It got to the point that I was hating to draw blood," she said. "Especially with the fear of AIDS."
She saw a notice that said "Come and clown around with us" from the local Parks and Recreation Department. Dorene checked it out and six weeks later she finished her first clowning course and had joined the local Clown Around Alley. In what Dorene calls a "brief moment of insanity," she and Jim decided to move to Utah (Dorene was raised in Tremonton).
Dorene continued to clown until three years ago when she suffered a stroke. Now, as part of her therapy, Dorene continues clowning throughout the state. Jim, known as "Mr. Jim", joined his wife to give moral support and gave his first performance a few years ago at a family reunion.
Mr. Jim uses "Dirty-bird" the Ostrich and "Orangi-tang" two stuffed animals-turned puppets as part of his show. "I've even taught Dirty-bird how to lay eggs," he said.
Both clowns admit the excitement of entertaining keeps their hearts ticking. "Before I do a show I'm higher than a kite," Dorene said. "You'd think I'd get over it, but it happens every time."
During the Christmas season, Dunky Dory and Mr. Jim turn in their clown outfits and don Santa and Mrs. Claus suits. They have been performing at parties, hospitals and church gatherings nearly every day this holiday season.
Between clown conventions, classes, Christmas and a few hours for resting, the Nielsen's are preparing for their biggest appointment yet.
"The Clowns of America Convention, to be held in Bognor-Regis, England in March, has invited us to be two of 300 American clowns to attend the event," Jim said. "For the first time clowns from the Eastern bloc countries will be allowed to attend."
Although the entire trip will be a treat, Jim and Dorene agree that meeting and learning from eastern European clowns will be a tremendous experience.
Another experience that has touched the Nielsen's lives because of clowning was when a fellow clown named "Gimpy" passed away in Ogden.
"One of our clowns passed away. Because of amputations he had to clown in his wheelchair," Dorene said. "He died a pauper, but he died happy. His grave was covered with balloons and all his friends in clown costumes gathered around his grave and gave him a 21-balloon salute. The balloons were beautiful as they floated skyward. He would have liked that."
Dunky Dory and Mr. Jim plan to be around for a long time. They are having too much fun to stop now.
"We are a bit of an embarrassment to our children," Dorene said. "We are in our third childhood. We have gone way beyond our second childhood."