Sharon Turner-Rondquist has always been a clown at heart.
While the other girls around her were preoccupied with thoughts of what colour and type of gown they would wear to graduation, she had something else in mind.
“I asked if I could wear my clown suit to my graduation and my parents said no,” Turner-Rondquist says. “My cousin’s boyfriend, who was a good friend of mine, ended up surprising me by showing up in a clown costume and escorting me down the aisle. So that was as close as I got.”
Her parents thought that would be the end of it.
“I guess my parents kind of thought it might wear off,” Turner-Rondquist says.
But it didn’t.
Always wanting to be a clown, her mom, Patricia Turner, finally made Turner-Rondquist a clown suit when she was in high school.
After tagging along with a friend to entertain at a child’s birthday party, she was hooked.
But she wasn’t so sure on how to get where she wanted to go.
“I would put on circuses in our garage at home as a kid and would charge people to come. I always wanted to to that, but didn’t know how,” Turner-Rondquist says. “There’s nothing about circus arts at career day. I have a friend who talks about me being kind of grouchy at career day because there were no clowns or theatre schools.”
So she forged her own path, and went to college to study early childhood education. When she wasn’t at school, she would put on her clown suit and before long she was doing a few birthday parties, blowing up balloons and making children laugh.
After attending a workshop on Cortes Island put on by Wavy Gravy and Txi Whizz – well-known entertainers in the clowning world – Turner-Rondquist says she knew clowning was what she wanted to do for a living.
So she began with volunteer work, reading books for kids in her clown suit at the library and making hospital visits. She was also asked by the Discovery Jaycees, a local volunteer clown troupe, to come and teach them her clowning skills.
At that point, Turner-Rondquist says her mom told her she would need a new clown suit.
“And that’s when she made Shoo Shoo,” Turner-Rondquist says.
The hallmark blue shirt, gold pants, macaroni hair and top hat made their debut at the July 1 Canada Day parade, when Turner-Rondquist was just 19-years-old.
Her big breakthrough came later that same month at a music and arts fair, the Renaissance Fair, in the Comox Valley.
The other clowns in the show asked Turner-Rondquist what her name was. The problem was, she didn’t know how to answer because she still didn’t have one.
“They decided to name me – a French name, ‘Mon Shoo Shoo’, which translates to My Little Cabbage,” Turner-Rondquist says. “It’s an affirmative term, that you’re sweet. I didn’t speak French so I turned it into Shoo Shoo and I got these big shoes. It made sense for the kids to have a literal term and it just kind of stuck and I created the character around it.”
She’s been Shoo Shoo the Clown now for 34 years and the costume hasn’t changed much. She’s still the same beloved Shoo Shoo and she’s still entertaining and warming the hearts of local kids, whether it be at birthday parties or community events such as Starlight Shopping, National Child Day, the boat show, or Canada Day.
“I just said I would do it until it wasn’t fun anymore,” Turner-Rondquist says. “It’s an awesome job. How many jobs do you get hugs and kisses, and children love you?”
But it’s more than just Shoo Shoo the Clown. Turner-Rondquist also has a few alter egos who unexpectedly show up to entertain and at times, draw a few red faces, while delivering singing telegrams for adult birthdays and anniversaries.
The pink elephant, Miss Piggy, a gorilla, and as of 10 years ago, old lady Gertrude, have been entertaining the more mature crowd for nearly as long as Shoo Shoo.
Most of the costumes, which are available to the community on a rental basis, are hand-made by Turner-Rondquist’s mom who helps run the shop. The shop is named Imagination Unlimited because of the volume of costumes and suits available.
“It seemed to fit the bill because there wasn’t anything we wouldn’t try,” Turner-Rondquist says of the early days when the shop was first getting its legs out from under it.
Since then, Imagination Unlimited has stood the test of time, as has Shoo Shoo.
“I’m really lucky that Campbell River’s been so great,” she says. “It’s a really great place to work. I never thought it would last that long, but I’m still having fun.”
She also credits a strong support system.
“I’m very, very lucky I have that support,” Turner-Rondquist says. “Everyone in my family has at some point helped me. Everyone has had something to do with the business. All three of my kids have been clowns at some point.
“I have an awesome family. My mom and all my family have been such a support, from when I told my parents I wanted to be a clown to now,” she adds. “It’s a great life and I feel very blessed for my friends and the community.”
And the community is thankful to have her. It’s rare to attend a community event and not see Shoo Shoo the Clown. “It’s a full-time life but a part-time job,” Turner-Rondquist says.
And she is still doing birthday parties, though it’s slowed down from 30 weekends a year in the heydays to about two or three parties a month.
“It’s kind of going back to the old-fashioned birthday parties, where they’re happy to have it at home and have cake and punch,” Turner-Rondquist says.
And she’s happy to make people laugh.
“I’ve always said ‘I don’t care if you’re laughing at me, for me, or with me, as long as you’re laughing.’”
Anyone interested in hiring Shoo Shoo the Clown, a singing telegram or renting a costume can call Turner-Rondquist at 250-923-0763 or visit the Shoo Shoo the Clown/Imagination Unlimited Facebook page.