Steve Roeske traveled all the way from Melbourne, Florida, to sell East Texans oversized clown shoes.
Roeske was in town for the Texas Clown Association’s annual convention, which ran Wednesday through Sunday at the Holiday Inn Express on South Broadway Avenue.
Clown shoes are not cheap, either. These handmade, custom shoes are lovingly detailed by Roeske, who learned all the secrets of the trade from his uncle, Billie Prince.
That name, overheard in a crowded vendor room, was all Hilda Tate needed to convince her to try on a pair. She owns four Billie had made, the oldest she has been clowning in for more than 30 years.
“They are so comfortable. I’d wear them to the mall,” Mrs. Tate said.
Roeske said his uncle, who worked for a shoe company, was a Shriner who decided to try his hand at cobbling a pair of shoes for his clown costume during the Shrine Circus.
He did such a good job that others noticed and began seeking him out. He had a habit of giving young clowns their first pair of shoes, winning lifetime customers. One such clown was a teen when Billie Prince gifted him a pair of oversized sneakers. Decades later, he found Roeske at the convention and ordered two new pairs.
The convention, in its third decade, marked its first trip to Tyler. More than 150 clowns signed up for a week of learning new techniques in everything from magic to balloon twisting to client booking.
Curt Gunz, who performs under the name Professor QB, is the vice president of the Rosy Nose Alley. Rosy Nose, Tyler’s own clown organization, helped set up the convention.
“What the convention is trying to do is help us improve every aspect of our art form,” Gunz said.
Gunz spent 25 years as a minister before moving to East Texas to be near family. He had been clowning for more than a decade through his church, but found a much larger audience in Tyler.
“A lot of our folks do it just for the love of it,” Gunz said, “We try to, as individual alleys, give back to our communities. Our hearts are working with children’s groups and retirement homes.”
Gunz said while clowns can be intimidating for some, his group works hard to ensure they don’t scare anyone.
The convention’s lineup was made up of what Gunz called “the dream team” of guests they wanted to see. They were fortunate enough to be able to book these high demand instructors through sponsorships from churches and local businesses.
“There are as many personalities as there are people,” he said. “Some folks are quiet and reserved, others will do a pratfall in the middle of a restaurant. Really with clowning, it is more who you are than what you do.”
Rosy Nose meets at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month at the Atria Copeland, 5317 New Copeland Rd.
For more information, visit texasclownassociation.com