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For Harry Moore, Retirement Is a Chance to Clown Around

November 13, 1986|DENISE-MARIE SANTIAGO | Times Staff Writer

Harry and Theresa Moore dreamed of spending their retirement years hiking and square dancing.

But four years into "retirement," the Covina couple often find themselves picking through the clothes racks in thrift stores or choosing makeup for Harry.

"It's funny," Theresa Moore said. "We'll be looking for a shade of lipstick--for him."

Prevented by physical ailments from turning his retirement plans into reality, Moore decided to volunteer as a clown for the city of Covina, walking in parades, visiting Covina Park and entertaining residents at the city's senior citizen center. He also spends two days a week amusing patients at Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona.

Moore said he got started as a clown in 1984, after he read about a clown class offered through the Covina Recreation Department. He said it brought back memories of his youth in Portsmouth, Ohio, when he would wake early in the morning to watch the circus arrive by train.

Moore said his father worked for a railroad and knew in advance when the circus was coming to town.

"I'd get up about 4 in the morning and watch the circus trains unload," Moore said. "I'd carry water for the elephants and pitch hay and (do) things like that to get tickets for the sideshows."

The clowns, Moore said, "were like another dimension. They were unreal. And I could see them, associate with them.

"It was like turning on a light bulb. They could do things that nobody else could do--blow up balloons, bust balloons, roll around in the dirt."

So he signed up for a the course of clown classes in January, 1984. That summer, his wife joined him in his second course. "I didn't want to be a clown, but I wanted to learn about the makeup and the history of clowning," she said.

Together, they chose the tools of his trade, including wigs, puppets and other toys he keeps in his clown suitcase. She often paints his face with the brightly colored makeup.

Moore takes his clowning seriously.

"From week to week I plan how I'm going to dress up," said Moore, 65. "Every week I plan something different, how I'm going to go to the hospital.

"It's just wonderful to plan for this rather than think it's just another week for football or to watch TV. This way, I get exercise and I have beautiful memories."

Moore, who worked as a checker and a clerk in grocery stores for 31 years, and his wife, a former secretary, have been married for 41 years and looked forward to retirement.

But Moore, who suffers from a degenerative joint disease, was bedridden for a year after retirement. He had surgery to regain the use of his knees, but square dancing and hiking were not to be a part of his life.

He found himself sitting in his favorite chair, watching a lot of television and gaining weight. His wife, who was constantly on the alert for ways to entertain him, scanned newspapers for ideas to get him involved in something outside the home.

"When you retire, your mind doesn't stop operating," Theresa Moore said. Her husband "would sit there and worry about things that weren't important or things you can't do anything about, like the things you hear on the news or things that are happening in the world."

Since he started clowning around, Moore has not had much time for TV. And his wife does not have to entertain him anymore. "He has a life of his own," she said.

"Harry was much shyer when I first met him," said Bobbi Kemp, community relations coordinator for the city of Covina. "He seemed insecure, but he's changed."

Moore said he never imagined he would become a performer.

"Sometimes in front of a group, I'm scared to death," he said. "But when I put on all (the makeup and costume), it's like having something between me and the people. You wear that stuff and you get away with a lot."

Moore was chosen as one of this year's outstanding volunteers at Lanterman Developmental Center.

"I think he is surprised at the great amount of good that he's doing and how enthusiastic people are at receiving him," said the Rev. Fred H. Reed, Protestant chaplain at the center. "I think he's probably finding the greatest fulfillment of his life."

Moore agrees.

"I can hardly wait for the next week to go out. I'm not a great clown or anything like that, but they accept me out there."

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