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'Working clown' letting Chartiers Valley students in on life of laughter

Jeff Gordon is a former clown, who decades ago worked for Ringling Brothers and Walt Disney. He now is a resident artist, spreading his own style of laughter with about 100 students at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School. The student pictured is Matthew Leverich. Photo submitted by Chartiers Valley School District

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By Jeff Widmer
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Jeff Gordon refers to himself as a “working clown.”

Listen to him talk, and there is no doubt that he wants nothing more than to make others laugh.

“All I ever wanted,” Gordon said, “was to have a happy life. I did not want to push paper for a living. In my family, I saw way too many people who were unhappy with their lives. That, to me, was unreal. I could not believe that.

“I wanted to live a life of laughter.”

Gordon, 58, is a former clown, who decades ago worked for Ringling Bros. and Disney. He also was an All-American athlete as a diver at Allegheny College in Meadville.

He now is a resident artist, spreading his own style of laughter with almost 100 students at Chartiers Valley Intermediate School.

Gordon is working with students during the course of ten weeks. He teaches the art of juggling and other kinetic movements that can be used throughout their lifetimes.

For Gordon, performing for the students and helping them understand the arts is what life is all about. He does this by clowning, performing and “bringing out the performer in them,” he said.

“I enjoy this immensely,” said Gordon, a resident artist who has been working with students in several third-grade classes at Chartiers Valley since last month. “I love this. It is my soul work. I love the fact that these kids are learning a physical vocabulary.

“I encourage these kids to act up and misbehave for a while.”

Gordon works with students of Mary Mastren-Williams, an art teacher at the intermediate school in Scott.

“With the juggling being taught to the students, they are learning the process of performing the physical techniques. They are learning stage directions and becoming performers,” she said.

“To me, this has been a great thing. I always talk to the kids about the creative process of how to do things. This is the best way to bring it out. It gets kids to think as little bit more while they are having fun.”

The students themselves enjoy art class more now, they said.

Cheyenne Trimel of Bridgeville and Lillian Gaunt of Heidelberg, both third-graders, say art class is now a more creative experience.

“With Mr. Gordon here, I have learned that I'm good at some things and not at others. That's OK. I have also learned that I can be very creative,” she said.

Gordon's class has taught Lillian that “everyone can be creative in their own way,” she said.

His athleticism came partly from his grandfather, Charles Earl Schaum of Pittsburgh, who taught Gordon to walk on stilts.

“He was always very entertaining. I was engaged by it,” Gordon said.

At the end of Gordon's residency, he and the students will perform a circus show on March 13 at the intermediate school auditorium.

“For me,” Gordon said, “laughter is when all of us are at our most vulnerable. And there is an art to that.”

Jeff Widmer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5810 or

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