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Plant City couple clowns around to fuel ministry

PLANT CITY

David and Shirley Vick often don colorful makeup to infuse their Christian outreach ministry through clowning.

But the Vicks took off their clown costumes and headed to Staten Island, N.Y., on the heels of Superstorm Sandy to engage in their other job as licensed flood insurance adjusters.

"Floods are about the only thing that takes us away from clowning," David says.

The two roles present a stark contrast for the Plant City couple. On Staten Island, they met a couple who survived in their house while it was swept away and destroyed.

Back home, however, he's Elmo Twist, a balloon-twisting clown who often brings a bevy of smiles and laughter to such events as the annual Plant City Christmas Parade, scheduled for Friday.

Shirley, a Durant native, often joins him as Peaches. She brings her own special twist to the performances with beautiful hand-sewn costumes.

"She keeps me straight," says David, 69.

The two have entertained thousands of children throughout the country, Central America and South America.

The clowning experience also aids in David's role as a liaison for the local Lions Club's Leo Club programs at Durant, Plant City and Strawberry Crest high schools.

Shirley, 70, and David, a Navy veteran and retired boilermaker, share a passion for young people.

Shirley home-schooled their five children, and after graduating from Rhema Bible College, she and David plunged full speed ahead into an outreach ministry for children.

It didn't take long to see that clowns and balloon twisting captured and kept the attention of youngsters.

"We tried cowboys, sheriffs, hobos, but when we went to clowns, everyone began asking for Elmo and Peaches and the balloons," says David.

This led them to Mooseburger Arts Camp in Wisconsin where they studied under Frosty Little, a Ringling Brothers clown.

The clown duo has traveled to Mexico, Argentina, and Central America delivering a faith-based message, clothes, shoes and food to thousands of children through Flutemaker Ministries, a ministry out of Davie supported by the sale of bamboo instruments.

"We connected with Flutemaker to build a house for 18 kids living in a dump in Nicaragua," Shirley said. "We expected a few hundred children for our performances and turns out Elmo Twist and Peaches performed for over 5,000."

Although clowning and flood jobs frequently take them out of town, the couple is generous with time and talents in the community.

David has served for two years as host for the reunion of the USS Rogers, honoring three brothers who died aboard the USS New Orleans when it was struck by a torpedo in November, 1942.

David also works with local churches to meet the needs of youngsters and families and is on the board of Bread of Life.

Every Friday, he works with First United Methodist Church to feed the hungry. The couple's large house has an open-door policy.

"When our family visits, they say you never know who will be here," says Shirley. "Not long ago, we hosted 20 minister's wives from Argentina—there were sleeping bags in every room of the house, and most of them spoke no English."

David has been with the Lions Club only two years, but Michael Cameron, past president of the Lions Club, says he has been a valuable addition.

"He is always entertaining and brings levity to the club," Cameron said.

He taught the first clown troupe of Durant High School's Leo Club and helped them prepare for events, including the Strawberry Festival's parades.

Clowns from Durant, Strawberry Crest and Plant City high schools will be in this year's Christmas parade.

"If I can get back in time, Shirley and I will be there, too," David said from Staten Island last week.

Betty Briggs can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

. If you go

Plant City Christmas Parade

The 28th annual parade will be held Friday at 7 p.m. More than 70 units will make up the parade and it will include an appearance by Santa. The parade route begins at Collins and Alsobrook streets, travels north on Collins, east on Reynolds Street and disbands at the county courthouse at Reynolds and Michigan Avenue.

Plant City couple clowns around to fuel ministry 12/01/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 3:31am]
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