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By Carolyn Ten Broeck
People around the world are a little happier thanks to Rusty the Clown.
For 30 years, Rusty has been turning frowns upside down with his tricks, humor and all-around happy demeanor as he visits hospitals, community activities and charitable events.
Recently Rusty, a/k/a Jim Gorgans, was honored for his dedication and commitment to the art of clowning when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Clown Association.
The award, presented at the convention in Malaysia, singled Gorgans out for his dedication, promotion and continuing education in the art of clowning.
Gorgans, 76 and a Williston resident since 1977, has always dabbled with sleight of hand tricks.
Back in the early 80s, while attending a conference, his wife, June said she was going to see if there were any classes to spark her interests while he was involved elsewhere.
What she discovered was Clowning and soon, Gorgans was learning the art from his wife.
“I was Mr. Jim the Magician,” he said, “but after shows, the children didn’t flock to the magician. It was the clown they wanted to be with.”
At Clown College, Gorgans learned everything from the types of clowns to makeup, juggling, costumes, balloon art and comedy.
There are two types of clowns, he explained: the sawdust clown and the carpet clown. Sawdust clowns, as the name implies, are those who work around it – like circus and rodeo clowns. Carpet clowns, such as he and Strawberry a/k/a June, perform in full makeup, costume and wigs in mostly closed venues, like theatres, stores and hospitals.
Named Rusty, because of the orange/brown wig he first wore, Gorgans set out to develop his new hobby into a ministry that thrived on laughter and happiness.
Utilizing “comedy” makeup (makeup that includes a wig), Gorgans learned the art of making a face on a face by applying clown makeup where facial muscles are.
“You should be able to talk to a kid without saying a word,” he said.
In 1998 Gorgans was a Points of Light Award recipient for his work as Rusty in working with at-risk children at Lockhart Middle School in Orlando. The program, called “Clowns R Us” was so successful that in the first year, discipline referrals were reduced 55 percent and academic performance improved dramatically.
In 2001, he was named Clown of the Year. Numerous accolades and honors have taken the Miami native to Europe, Canada and across the United States.
A retired AT&T employee, Gorgans is active in the Telephone Pioneers in Gainesville and to date, about two dozen clowns meet monthly to hone their crafts and promote the art of clowning to others.
“Once you get into it,” he said of clowning, “you just enjoy it. You can help build self esteem while making people happy.
“I am thankful for my wife of 57 years who is always supportive and encourages me. She also makes my costumes.”
In addition to working with charities and school groups, Gorgans also entertains one night a week at Gators Dockside.