The funny thing about clowns - besides their ability to make children and adults smile - is that no one seems to recognize the person behind the painted face. For more than a half-century, Stan Dammann, aka Stan the Clown, has found that to be true.
"Everybody knows me with my paint on but take my stuff off and nobody knows me," Dammann said. "Most people only know me as Stan the Clown."
Stan the Clown, aka Stan Dammann of Lamberton, stopped along the parade route during the 85th annual Box Car Days parade Monday in Tracy
For the people who live in southwest Minnesota, the well-known clown is as much of a fixture at town festivals as anything else. Stan has been known to give out random clown kisses or get up and dance with someone along the parade route, his cheerful music playing the entire time.
At the conclusion of the 85th annual Box Car Days parade Monday, having pedaled his colorfully-decorated bicycle up and down the streets of Tracy for the 60th year, Stan the Clown was honored. In recognition of the remarkable milestone, Dammann received a plaque from Missie Erbes, Tracy Area Chamber of Commerce director, on behalf of the community of Tracy.
"Thank you for your great dedication," Erbes said.
Most would agree that 60 years is an extraordinary amount of time to do anything. When the effort is purely volunteer, out of the goodness of one's heart, it's almost unheard of. But for Dammann, it's part of his life.
"I've been volunteering for stuff all my life," he said. "Being a clown is fun. The best part is waving at the kids and them waving back."
While his wife Marcella teases him about being a has-been clown, Dammann, who will be 90 years old in December, has no plans to retire his Stan the Clown persona, though he no longer goes through the parade route two or three times.
"My doctor says to keep on doing it," Dammann said. "It's therapy."
Dammann is also known as "The Bike Man" because of his kindheartedness, generosity and all-around ability to make anything, including the makeshift boom box he uses to play music during parades. To date, he's repaired 125 bicycles and countless wringer washing machines, both of which periodically get sent to San Lucas Toliman Mission in Guatemala.
"I've fixed bikes all my life for a hobby," he said. "I enjoy it."
After working alone for most of his life, Dammann said he enjoys interacting with people, either by clowning or telling stories. After serving in the Air Force, where he worked on a number of bomber planes and as a military policeman, Dammann attempted to settle in on a career.
"I had a job in Florida with the Highway Patrol, but I had to turn it down because I couldn't stand the prickly heat," he said. "I took a meteorology test and got offered a meteorology job (in Illinois). But I had to pass that up because it was $3,000 less a year than I had been making and it was too far from home."
Then, in 1947, with 50 cents in his pocket, he married Marcella. Together, on Nov. 24 of this year, the couple will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
"I got her on a $2 bet at a dance," Dammann said. "I got her out on the dance floor and gave her a big smacker and I still got her to this day."
Since Marcella Dammann grew up in Wanda and Stan Dammann was originally from Sanborn, the couple decided to make their home in Lamberton. A week after, Stan Dammann began working for Interstate Power Company. For seven years, he dug holes for power poles and then gradually moved up the company ladder, retiring in 1986 after nearly 40 years of service.
"It's been a good life, but a fast one," he said. "You can't remember all the things you've done."
Dammann's long-time clown career was jump-started years ago when his boss was short a clown for a parade. Having volunteered for one thing or another all of his life, Dammann willingly agreed to step in and help out.
"One of his clowns was sick, so I said I'd do it," Dammann said. "So he dressed me up, put makeup on me and gave me a rubber duck to put in my hand. But everyone knew me because I had read all their meters."
When his debut attempt to go incognito didn't fool anyone, Dammann, who said he was immediately hooked on clowning, knew he had to do something drastic.
"I went to a Clown Club convention in St. Paul," he said. "It was a four-day session and I learned how to put makeup on from a guy that was selling the makeup. I learned how to do chicken tracks by my eyes and all sorts of other things."
And in an instant, Stan the Clown was born.
"Now, it takes me five minutes to put on the makeup," Dammann said. "I do it the same way every year."
Years later, while teaching a makeup session of his own, Dammann met someone else - Dennis Moore - who shared the same level of passion and dedication to make people happy as he did.
"He's the best Santa Claus I've ever seen," Dammann said. "He's become a good friend."
Moore, a Tracy High School graduate and now Redwood Falls resident, said his wife Karen, along with Dammann, encouraged him to begin clowning.
"When my son was in preschool, my wife made him a clown costume for Halloween," Moore said. "She wanted me to take him, so she ended up making me a clown costume, too. Then I met Stan at Arts in the Park and that was it. I've been clowning ever since."
Smiley the Clown, aka Moore, marked his 30th year as a Box Car Day parade clown this year.
"We've had some good times," Moore said.
Box Car Days in Tracy and Watermelon Days in Sanborn are the two annual parades the duo said they never miss.
"You can't beat those two parades," Dammann said. "There are never two alike. And, everybody knows us."
The annual events actually became a family affair for many years, as Dammann's five daughters and one son also got into clowning with their dad. All three of Moore's sons have also been clowns. But as time went on, only Stan and Smiley the clowns remained.
After the Box Car Day parade Monday, the pair loaded the two bicycles into Dammann's white van, one he keeps just for transporting their parade equipment. Then, the familiar-faced men headed downtown to mingle, grab a hamburger and get something to drink. And as the two clowns walked down the familiar street, shaking hands and waving at little children most of the way, it was impossible to tell who was enjoying themselves the most.