Once a month, “Klutz, the Magnificent” carpools with “Stretch,” “Bumps” and “Keys,” to bring some laughter and levity to children facing medical challenges.
“Klutz,” also known as Jim Cobb, of Washougal, has visited the Shriners Hospital for Children, in Portland, for 36 years — earning him a lifetime achievement award from the hospital in May for his “selfless service for the children.”
Through the years, Cobb, 88, has earned several honors, including a few from the Clowns of America, International, and the Pacific Northwest Shrine Association.
“I have not received too many awards in the last few years, as I haven’t entered any competitions,” Cobb says. “I started to slow down.”
Klutz has entertained throughout Washington State, performing at Elks Clubs’ Christmas parties in Vancouver and Battle Ground, as well as a Shriners circus in Tacoma.
“Being a clown keeps me young and active,” he explains.
It takes Cobb 60 to 90 minutes to transform himself into Klutz, with makeup and his bright red, yellow and blue clown outfit. Lois, Cobb’s wife of 50 years whom he describes as his “sidekick,” helps him put on his vest, the final touch to his clown ensemble.
The couple’s house includes many clown figurines and paintings of clowns that Lois has purchased or the couple has received as gifts.
Cobb says it’s important to have a clown name when you first start clowning.
“I had always heard about people being a klutz — someone to laugh at (who is) clumsy,” he says. “I tried it out, and it stuck. I later added Klutz ‘the Great’ but that didn’t sound right, so it’s Klutz, ‘the Magnificent.’ Without the Magnificent, I am nothing.”
In addition to “Klutz,” members of the Southwest Washington Afifi Shrine Clowns Unit of Afifi Shriners include “Stretch,” Raymond Zimmerman, 65, of Battle Ground, a retired engineer who is almost 6′ 4” tall; “Bumps,” Dave Bryant, of Vancouver, who is an avid salmon fisherman and retired printer; and “Keys,” Dale Vrsalovich, of Vancouver, who plays piano and is a retired UPS driver.
The doctors, nurses and other medical staff at Shriners Hospitals help children with club feet, cerebral palsy, short legs, burn scars and a variety of neuromuscular diseases.
“Of all the patients at Shriners, the ones I feel for the most are the burn victims,” Cobb says. “The pain and suffering they go through and still have a smile on their faces always amazes me.”
The Southwest Washington Afifi Shrine Clowns Unit of Afifi Shriners has earned and donated more than $50,000 to the Shriners Burns Center within the past decade.
Cobb pays for his own clown makeup, costumes, magic supplies and travel expenses.
“I consider it all money well spent for a great cause,” he says.
When the clowns perform their magic tricks at the Shriners Hospital, they “lighten things up,” according to Shanda Lewis, of Alaska.
She was at the hospital June 28, with her son, Ryan, 10, for a follow-up appointment. Ryan had surgery to fuse cervical vertebrae and stabilize his spine in December 2016.
“It’s kind of an escape from reality,” Shanda said, referring to the clowns’ magic show, which they performed on June 28. “It’s part of the healing.”
“Klutz” called upon Ryan several times to serve as a magic assistant during the June show at the Portland hospital.
“It was cool,” Ryan said, while smiling, after the show.
The activity room where the clowns performed has other forms of entertainment for the young patients, including video games and an air hockey table.
Dave and Timberlyn Lamburth, of Klamath Falls, Oregon, attended the June 28 magic show with their two daughters, Laylana, 3, and Aaliyah, 1. The family comes to the Shriners Hospital every five weeks, for Aaliyah to be treated for infantile scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
Timberlyn said the clowns’ show brought “happiness and smiles” for her and her family.
“They have big enough hearts to keep kids entertained,” she said.
Dave appreciated the entertainment, and Laylana said all of the clowns performed their magic tricks well.
It was the first time the Lamburths had seen the performances by “Klutz,” “Stretch,” “Bumps” and “Keys.”
“Stretch” says he enjoys interacting with the children and the Shriners hospital staff.
“The kids are amazingly upbeat — considering what they are going through — and they are glad to see us,” he says.
The life isn’t all fun and games, though, Stretch says. One of the challenges for Shrine clowns is finding new tricks for the magic acts.
When Cobb drives to the hospital, as Klutz, people sometimes wave to him.
“Everyone loves a clown,” Cobb says. “If I can get one person to smile, then all the makeup and effort are worth it.”
Cobb admits however, there are some children and adults who are afraid of clowns.
“All you can do is back away,” he says.
When Klutz arrives at the hospital’s parking garage, he changes his footwear from tennis shoes to much larger red and yellow clown shoes.
After the magic show, it takes 30 minutes from him to get cleaned up at home.
“Then, I am done for the day,” Cobb says.
He previously worked as a junior engineer for the city of Washougal, and he is a former member of the United States Army Reserve.
Cobb and Lois also help the clowns in other ways: Once, they restored a 1928 REO firetruck that has been used in parades, in which Shriners clowns participate, adding a new motor and restoring the truck’s trailer.
The Shriners clowns have participated in Harvest Days parades in Battle Ground, and Veterans Day parades at Fort Vancouver.
They were grand marshals for the 1990 Camas Days grand parade. The Shriner clowns and a 1976 purple Volvo station wagon, with loud speakers and flashing lights, will be in this year’s Camas Days grand parade, which starts at 11 a.m., Saturday, July 22, and runs along Northeast Fourth Avenue through downtown Camas.
“All our clowning and fundraising is our way of supporting the Shriners Hospitals and burns centers,” Cobb explains. “That is why we are proud to call ourselves Shrine Clowns.”