Rebuilding a 25-year legacy

Local community group’s growth depends on making people smile

Dennis Fletcher
SJVFE members and friends, clockwise from bottom left: Buttons, Incogneto, Ben Circo, Flora Doodle, O.P., RRR (the Pirate), Sunny Sunshine, Flutter Butter, Love Bug.

■ By Gena Estrin / Contributed

In a back room of Stadium Pizza on the night of Aug 2, resident balloon twister Ben Circo performed with a colorful group of entertainers. These people are members of the San Jacinto Valley Family Entertainers (SJVFE) who gather for their monthly meetings, which is the first Thursday. Longtime entertainer and clown “Buttons,” at the head of the table, deferred the floor to Circo, who heads up SJVFE.
This year, Circo, following in the footsteps of Buttons, organized the new group, the San Jacinto Valley Family Entertainers. Circo started working as a balloon twister at the age of 14 under the tutelage of Buttons and two of Buttons’ students, who have become trainers too.

Photos by Gena Estrin
Flora Doodle arranging all her face painting colors.

All family entertainers are advised to have entertainer’s insurance. So when Ben began performing as a minor, his insurance required adult supervision. Now in his 20s, Ben mused, “My mom had been driving me to my balloon gigs for five years, before I learned she doesn’t like balloons or loud noises.”
More than 25 years ago, Buttons got his start entertaining as a clown. At one time, he entertained passengers on over 20 cruises. Buttons began organizing, “The Golden Clowns of Hemet,” which he formally founded on April 3, 1993. The group later was replaced by “The Happy Clowns of Hemet,” which remained active from 1995 through last December. Circo has resurrected Button’s 25 year legacy this past February when he organized this new group called the San Jacinto Valley Family Entertainers and began gathering members, including, of course, Buttons.
Buttons has many things to be proud of in addition to his 25 years of work including organizing clowns. One year, the clown convention’s dress-up theme was to demonstrate what made you the happiest. Buttons won first place attending the convention dressed as a baby, wearing only a diaper.
He said he is extremely proud that he has been entertaining for over 30 years making people smile and laugh. In fact, prior to this meeting of SJVFE, Buttons, who is still performing from his wheelchair at age 95, performed a show.

The youngest member of the group, O.P. – clown in training.

When seeking to find out his real name, I asked Buttons how the name is spelled. He slowly said “D. U. M. M. Y.” and after writing down the letters for me, I laughed out loud when I realized what I had written. While we were laughing, Buttons explained: “for today’s performance I played a character called Mr. Dumay.”
Currently the SJVFE is a small group of 12 active members, the youngest is aged 15 and the oldest is 95, representing four generations of entertainers. In addition to Buttons and Circo, there are seven face painters, balloon artists, clown members and three magicians. The six additional members that attended this meeting were: “Sunny Sunshine,” clown and balloon twister “Flutter Butter,” Face Painter and Children’s Party Clown “Flora Doodle,” Face (and arms and legs) Painter “O.P.,” clown in training; and “RRR,” the Pirate and Human Cartoon, plus Incognito. Vanessa is a member that could not attend the evening’s festivities.
Vanessa doesn’t have a clown name yet as she is a very new member who Ben Circo is training. Also, all four magicians, Austin King, Rex Berry, Black Magic, and Joel Circo, were unable to attend.
Flutter Butter and Sunny Sunshine joined this new group because they are still active entertainers. Buttons was their mentor. In turn, the two clowns became Ben Circo’s mentors. Flutter Butter and Sunny Sunshine previously belonged to the former “The Happy Clowns of Hemet” group. Flutter Butter described Buttons as an “ultimate performer with impeccable timing.” She also explained that in addition to being a consummate performer, he is a wonderful teacher of all aspects of clowning and entertaining, and a dedicated organizer and leader of other clowns.

RRR about to demonstrate a magic trick using a container of mints.

Twelve years ago, Buttons helped Flutter Butter on to the path of becoming the successful face painter and party clown she is today. In 2006, before she became known as “Flutter Butter,” she worked at a grocery store which encouraged their employees to volunteer. That year, she volunteered at March Air Force Base’s Annual Military Appreciation Picnic. Some of the entertainers there were clowns. They made her smile and feel very happy, and that’s when she decided to become a clown herself.
Prior to 1997, Sunny Sunshine taught school and worked at camps with children. At an event held at a camp, he saw how the children’s faces lit up and how heartily they laughed at the clowns that were performing. He said to himself “that’s for me!” Then and there, he decided that he wanted to make children happy by being a clown and balloon twister. Through Buttons’ tutelage, Sunny Sunshine eventually became an award winning balloon artist. Sunny and his wife, have entertained children, younger and older for many years since his epiphany at that camp. Several times they have performed at Soboba Halloween and Christmas shows, the Date Festival in Indio, as well as many other events and venues.
Flora Doodle confided, “Flutter Butter gave me my first paint set a year and a half ago. First she let me share her paints. Then gave me one of her paint sets and encouraged me to increase my skills, so I could become a professional face painter.” Flora Doodle is available on Facebook and you can see many examples of her artistry at www.facebook.com/floradoodle. You can also discover on Facebook, Ben Circo, Balloon Twister, and Joel Circo, Magician.

Flutter Butter showing a photo of the former group “Happy Clowns”.

Many of these members of San Jacinto Valley Family Entertainers will be performing at upcoming events:
Saturday, Sept 8 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce Military Appreciation Committee’s 46th Annual Military Appreciation Picnic at March Air Force Base. Contact asall@riverside-chamber.com for more information and Sponsorship Opportunities
Saturday, Oct 6, 10 a.m. Oktoberfest at Estudillo Mansion Historical Landmark in San Jacinto, Francisco Estudillo Heritage Park, 150 S Dillon Ave, San Jacinto, CA 92583-4030. For more information contact: Rebecca Schlosser at (951) 927-7367.
Ben Circo, as the leader of SJVFE, offered that “Any family friendly entertainers are welcome to join the group.” If you wish to join their group, or you are interested in hiring any members of the San Jacinto Valley Family Entertainers, please contact Ben Circo at circomagicandballoons@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the entertainer named “Buttons”
Part of a photograph of the original family-friendly entertainment group, founded by Buttons on April 3, 1993.

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