Clown club fights for a place at Kiddie Park
BARTLESVILLE -- For more than 30 years, clowns entertained children on weekends at Bartlesville's historic Kiddie Park. But this year, the new park board decided that the clowns' run was over.
"The clowns have been a huge part of Kiddie Park's history. They are an institution," said Kaylene Westbrook, whose husband Dick is a longtime clown. "The clowns, with the help of others, raised the money for that plane ride."
The Bartlesville Fun Addicts clown club has been sending clowns to the park for decades to create balloon hats and animals and entertain children. Often, they took donations for the creations and sometimes they gave the balloons away free to children who could not afford to pay.
In 2020, the clowns were sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, But Fun Addicts members recently attended a Kiddie Park board meeting to petition for the clowns' return, only to receive a letter informing them that wouldn't happen.
"There was some discussion during the meeting, but then they went behind closed doors to discuss it some more and sent a letter," said Westbrook. "We're told by the letter that the clowns were not welcome."
The letter declined the clown club's offer to perform at the park this season, citing a need for "fewer moving parts to manage."
This decision came as a surprise to the Fun Addicts since they have been clowning at the Kiddie Park for ages without any need for management oversight, Westbrook said. And they usually donate a portion of the funds (as much as $1,500) they receive over the summer back to the Kiddie Park.
"The clowns have never had any issues at the park as far as with children or things like that − it's political," said Westbrook.
But Ken Johnson, president of the Bartlesville Playground Association that runs the park, said that's not so.
"We've got a brand new board now and they're trying to change some of the ways that the park is run," he said. "We are implementing a bunch of new changes over this year and next year. And we're actually in the process of refurbishing the whole park."
Westbrook said there were issues with a previous board member before current management took over that caused division between the park and the clowns, but she declined to go into details.
"It was a long time ago and everyone involved needs to put the past behind them because it is about the kids," she said.
Johnson said there are many factors that went into the park board's decision.
"We've actually had some parents come up and say the clowns have − at no fault to the clowns − but they just have scared some of the kids," he said.
The board has considered inviting the clowns back to provide entertainment for a night or two later on after park restructuring, Johnson said.
"Our mission is to provide inexpensive family entertainment and we want to make sure all the families that come feel that they can come without any fear or anything," he said. "It's nothing about the clowns. We just don't feel right now it's one of the entertainments that we're wanting to offer."
He said the clowns are welcome to set up a booth at the splash pad outside the park fencing and make balloon animals for children.
"That's great. We don't have any problem with that," Johnson said. "But as far as being invited this year, we're just not interested in that at this point."