Bradford Stone is a gastroenterologist by day.
But nights and weekends, he steps out of his white coat and into a pair of oversized clown shoes as president of Clowns Across the River, a clowning nonprofit based in Apple Valley.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to interact with the kids and see how much fun you and the kids can have together,” Stone said.
Clowns Across the River appears at a variety of parades and charity events throughout the year, such as the Eagan Fourth of July Parade, the Defeat of Jesse James Days Parade, the Get Your Rear in Gear 5K Run/Walk and the Special Olympics Christmas party.
The group formed in 2000 when a costume shop called Donna Jean’s Costume Emporium offered clown classes, Stone said. Donna Jean’s has since closed and the group now meets in at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month.
The group of about 15 clowns performs at charity events for free, but charge for their parade appearances. They raise approximately $2,000 annually, all of which is either donated to charity or used to meet the group’s various clowning-related expenses.
None of the Clowns Across the River are professionals. Many of them, however, have attended Mooseburger Clown Camp in Maple Lake, where former Ringling Brothers clowns provide beginners with a clown arts education. The membership of Clowns Across the River has included everyone from elementary schoolers to senior citizens.
The oldest current member is 78-year-old Mike Mudgett, who joined the group after a bout with bladder cancer led him to re-examine his life.
“Once the doctor said ‘We think we have it under arrest,’ I said ‘I’m going to have fun the rest of my life,’ ” said Mudgett. “So I became a clown.”
The group is always looking for new members, Stone said. Aspiring clowns who join are assigned a more experienced mentor. Clowns Across the River also frequently holds education sessions, where guests will teach everything from comic movement to balloon artistry.
For more information, visit the group’s website.