Clowning Spotlight: Scooter – 23 Years of Bringing Smiles to Children
In February of 1999, Don “Scooter” Hill was invited to travel and clown in Vietnam with a humanitarian group to visit several orphanages. To his knowledge, this was the first time the concept of clowning in Vietnam would be introduced.
It was at a Hanoi orphanage where he held a 6 year-old deaf, mute, sight-impaired, physically disabled child in his arms. “The house mothers were crying and I was concerned that I had done something wrong. Quite the contrary they explained. It was the first and only time they had seen the young child laugh.”
That is what inspired Scooter, a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, submariner, to find more clowns to travel with him back to Vietnam. That trip was the inspiration for the founding of Caring Clowns International.
It’s a long way from his humble beginnings as a pizza delivery driver in 1994 who dressed up as a clown at the suggestion of his store manager.
After returning from his fifth trip to Vietnam Scooter, Jed “Duffy” Selter, Lois “CoCo” Kerr, and Michael “Safari” Keesling along with Marcia Smith-Hill (who later joined her husband in clowning as “Missy Kissy”) held a brainstorming session to see how to continue their work and Caring Clowns International was formed in April 2002.
It was on this trip Scooter met an anesthesiologist on the plane who worked with surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig. Dr. Weinzweig subsequently contacted “Duffy” and shared his vision to combine surgery with entertainment to help ease the burden of the children and their families.
The contact with Dr Weinzweig began the relationship between Caring Clowns International and Komedyplast. In 2017, Caring Clowns International will celebrate its 15th anniversary and its 12th year supporting the Komedyplast missions to Peru for them to perform full facial reconstructive surgery free for poor children. To read more about the medical mission go to: Peru Mission 2016
Scooter has many special memories as a caring clown including clowning the night before his grandchild had surgery for cancer, seven trips to Vietnam, trips to Peru as part of the Komedyplast team and travel with “Children of the Nations International” to the Dominican Republic.
In 2000 his clown face was redesigned by Jim Howe, a well-known retired clown, and his compassion has touched many. Laying on the ground, eye-to-eye with children on bamboo matts, he has a unique ability to get children to laugh and giggle. As a co-founder and active member of Caring Clowns International, he takes the role very seriously always remembering a 12 year-old boy who donated his birthday money to the organization. “I always remember his donation; so I am always inspired that Caring Clowns International carefully uses its donations to help children around the world.”
Scooter has many “caring clown” moments in his 23 years as a clown. On his first trip to Lima, Peru, Scooter was allowed into the operating room and post-op room to video for the surgical team’s reference files. One young child in the recovery area who had just been through a complicated surgery where portions of her skull were removed to make room to replace her eyes was covered in bandages. Scooter recalled “I had a keyboard and she put her hands on the keyboard and started to plunk the keys as if playing. It was a very magical moment.”
Scooter lost his brother in January 2015 to stomach and liver cancer right before a planned trip to Peru in February 2015 – two days before his brother’s memorial. His brother insisted Scooter to go to Lima saying that the people Scooter would touch were more important than he. “I really reached deep on that trip, thinking of my brother as I looked into the eyes of those in need,” Scooter said.
“Music, laughter, tears and food are commonalities around the world, “ he said. “There are too many tears, so bringing laughter is what makes me humble to be a clown and bring my gift to people in need.”