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Clowning Around at the Red Cross
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Jeff Morris, Grant Writer, American Red Cross of Central West Virginia
 
August 4, 2009

Bob and Teresa Gretton are serious clowns.

Not that there’s anything but a double dose of silliness when they don giant floppy shoes, colorful clothes, makeup and slip into their clown personas, Bunky and Blinky (and Teresa’s latest character, Blondi).

Bob and Teresa Gretton inject some humor into their roles at the Red Cross. Sara K. Taylor/Maryland Independent
Bob and Teresa Gretton inject some humor into their roles at the Red Cross. Sara K. Taylor/Maryland Independent

Sara K. Taylor/Maryland Independent



Bob Gretton, a.k.a. 'Bunky,' is the volunteer coordinator at the Red Cross of Southern Maryland, and has mastered the art of clowning around.
Bob Gretton, a.k.a. “Bunky,” is the volunteer coordinator at the Red Cross of Southern Maryland, and has mastered the art of clowning around.

But when you consider the American Red Cross of Southern Maryland employees have been clowning around for 30-plus years, did their own cable TV show, produced halftime entertainment for the Washington Redskins, appeared on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central, and Bob was named International Clown of the Year, it’s clear they are not of the untrained, rent-a-clown-for-a-kid’s-weekend-birthday party variety.

“In the clown world, we are considered the (George) Burns and (Gracie) Allen of clowning,” Bob says. “She’s my Gracie, as far as the characters are concerned. Sometimes she acts a little naïve; I cause all of the trouble.”

Bob is the volunteer coordinator at the Red Cross chapter and organizes special events, while Teresa is the supervisor of the Response Center Network call center. They have serious jobs, but they have found ways to inject humor into their roles. While the clown outfits are left at home, the clowns “inside” the pair emerge, such as the times when Teresa tries to liven up call agent training.

“It’s tough to sit through two or three hours of a class, trying to learn this overwhelming amount of information and be serious all the time,” she says. “Every now and then, I’ll throw in a little saying or something different. They just kind of laugh a little bit and feel more relaxed.”

At the chapter, emergency training is taught through a program called Don’t Clown Around With Disaster Preparedness. Important tasks, including building a disaster kit, are shared by a chapter representative with groups while Bob clowns around in the background with props such as a giant foam hammer, a never-empty water bucket and fake dog biscuits.

Humor is actually what brought the Grettons to the Red Cross. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Bob was approached at a clown convention by a CNN marketing vice president who wanted to create an organization that could provide comic relief to those who were affected by disasters. From this start, “Red Nose Response” was born.

Bob was asked to serve on the board as relief agency liaison. Then in 2006, the couple attended another convention in Metairie, Louisiana, the first major convention in the New Orleans area since Hurricane Katrina. While performing at a local school, the clowns were a big hit with the emotionally drained students and staff.

Bob, now the president of the organization, arranged for the Red Cross affiliation with Red Nose Response. A few months later, he met the CEO of the Southern Maryland Chapter, Mike Zabko, when the two teamed efforts to establish a partnership between the local chapters of the Red Cross and Red Nose Response. This nationwide organization of 547 clowns in 46 states has produced new volunteers for Red Cross chapters to help with everything from fundraising to disaster situations.

The Grettons say the post-Katrina experience was one of the highlights of their careers as clowns. “To see the look on these kids’ faces, like they had never seen a clown before,” Teresa says. “To see what they had lost and note the resilience these kids had was phenomenal.”

Through it all, these serious clowns have lightened the moods of more than a few people, who may have been, well, a little too serious.

“I think after that first day I realized that you could entertain from the little, tiny guys to the blue hairs, that’s what I love,” Bob says. “I just enjoy making people happy, that’s all it is. I’ve kind of rolled that over into the Red Cross.”

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.


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