Funeral director shows sillier side by performing as a clown

William Huber often becomes ‘Willie the Clown’

By:Vanessa S. Holt
   BORDENTOWN CITY — Ask funeral director William Huber what he does in his spare time and you may be tempted to laugh.
   Especially if you see him in his full regalia as "Willie the Clown," bringing smiles to children’s faces for more than three decades.
   Mr. Huber’s two professions may seem mutually exclusive, but as a recent ad campaign by the Huber-Moore Funeral Home attempted to show, funeral directors are human too.
   The four advertisements show the four funeral directors as multifaceted individuals just like the rest of us: Ernie Dobronte, a Navy man; John Moore, a deacon and Rotarian; Deb Tolboon, a choir director; and Bill Huber, "part-time Shrine clown, full-time human being."
   "It shows that we are humans with feeling and emotions," said Mr. Huber. "Funeral directors are not always in black wringing their hands; they are people with a sense of humor."
   Mr. Huber has been a clown almost as long as he has been a funeral director. He came to Bordentown City in 1961 and has been operating a funeral home at 517 Farnsworth Avenue ever since, raising five children along the way.
   He began to get seriously into clowning at about the same time that he started his funeral business.
   "It’s a way to relieve tension, and it’s brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people, I hope," he said. "It’s nice to know you brought someone a smile."
   Although his two professions never overlap, his life as a clown has helped him understand his role as a funeral director.
   "When people are stressed, you have to relax them and help them through this process of grieving," he said.
   Clowns who are members of the Shrine of North America do more than bring smiles, they help to raise money for the Shrine’s 19 orthopedic hospitals and burn institutes.
   He joined the Shrine in 1961 and was one of 15 charter members of the Crescent Temple Shrine in Trenton.
   Mr. Huber, 68, does not don the wig and rubber nose as much as he used to but participates in six to eight parades or "gigs" annually.
   He also judges clown competitions, giving clowns marks for everything from make-up application to costumes to overall style.
   Over the years he has had opportunities to "run away and join the circus," with one offer to join a troupe that was traveling to Japan, but with a successful business and five children he has just kept clowning as a hobby.
   The rewards have been enormous, particularly when working with children.
   He recalled one time that he and another clown had stopped in a local restaurant before going to their next gig, and delighted a 3-year-old girl at a nearby table with a balloon sculpture of a flower and a bumblebee.
   "She threw her arms around me and said, ‘I love you,’ " said Mr. Huber. "I will never forget her until the day I die. She brought me a lot of happiness."
   The most important thing about working with children is to be completely sincere, he said.
   "You will not fool a child. You gotta have it here," he said, pointing to his heart. "If you are sincere, they’ll respond."
   Like all clowns, Mr. Huber has developed his persona and his "face" over the years. It takes him up to two hours to apply his make-up, and he always applies the greasepaint himself.
   As "Willie the Clown" he is an "auguste" clown, a pratfall or comic clown. The "pie-in-the-face" type of clown, he said with a laugh.
   There are three other main types of clowns: whiteface, tramp or hobo clowns and character clowns. Whiteface clowns are considered the "artistic" variety of clown, with black and red lines and dots on their faces. That category includes mimes and "sad clowns."
   Tramps and hobos are known for their patched clothing and make-up that gives them an unshaven appearance. Character clowns like just about anything that a clown can dream up.
   When he judges competitions he looks at everything from how evenly make-up is applied and powdered to whether the costume fits the character.
   A hobo clown with glossy black shoes could lose a point, and therefore a competition.
   "Willie the Clown" lost a point once because his shoelaces weren’t sparkly and the rest of his costume was.
   Clowning can be a serious business in the competition ring. That doesn’t make it any less fun, of course, he said.
   He once received a first-place award in a skit competition for his antics with a cardboard kite on the end of a 10-foot length of flexible welding rod. He asked the audience to blow on the kite to make it fly, and even asked the judge’s ring to lend their breath to keep the kite aloft.
   "I said to the judges, ‘There’s a lot of hot air over here!’ and one of the judges fell on the floor laughing," he said with a chuckle.
   All in all, clowning has been a very rewarding part of Mr. Huber’s life, he said.
   "I’ve gotten a lot more back than I’ve given," he said.
   He also recommends it to anyone who has ever thought of putting on a giant bow tie, a rainbow wig or a polka-dot jumpsuit.
   "There’s a little clown in everyone," he said.