A Clown at Heart
Mark Lowry models an elephant hat in a Conservation Education classroom.
Though he looks like just another member of Zoo Pride on the outside, Mark Lowry is a red-nosed clown at heart. "It's part of my natural personality,” says Lowry, who has volunteered for a variety of groups for 19 years, often as Bublz the clown. Though he has been clowning since he was 7 years old, Lowry holds a full-time position as an electronic technician at the post office. Since he joined Zoo Pride, the Zoological Society’s volunteer auxiliary, in April 2007, Lowry has put his clown personality to work at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
The Conservation Education Department, where Lowry helps instructors in the Zoological Society’s classrooms, takes on a bit of a circus atmosphere when Lowry is around. Lowry likes working with the kids because they are funny and know a lot about animals, he says. But he is always game to make them laugh as well. For example, Lowry owns more than 300 silly hats. He wore one of his groundhog hats to a class held on Groundhog Day. He’s so committed to education that when he found out that no classes were held in January, he still came in to support the education staff by preparing art projects for February classes. He made dozens of paper giraffe heads, hippo feet and frog legs. “I consider volunteers teacher aides,” he says. “My favorite part is taking the kids out to see the animals we talked about [in class].”
In summer, Lowry acts as a guide and learns interesting facts to answer zoogoers’ questions. He works in and near the Florence Mila Borchert Big Cat Country area of the Zoo, home to animals from African lions to an Asian red panda. Lowry tells children that no matter how playful animals look, they can always be dangerous. But he always tries to liven up his lessons. “I try to use humor as a deterrent with kids who are upset or crying at the Zoo to get them to giggle,” he says. If a parent is late picking up a child from an education class, Lowry entertains and jokes around with the child while waiting. “Humor helps with communication skills,” he says, at the Zoo and in other situations.
Lowry’s specialty as a clown is making balloon animals. (He doesn’t make balloons on Zoo grounds because the deflated rubber could harm the animals.) As part of a Red Cross disaster-action team, Lowry volunteered at a shelter for victims of the January 2008 tornados that destroyed numerous homes in Kenosha County. He created balloon animals to cheer up people at the shelter. Says Lowry: “I say any good clown is a clown in and out of costume.”