Local News

Community throws weight behind clown school

—In the aftermath of the recent vandalism of windows at the American Clown Museum and School in Lake Placid, it wasn’t the capture of the perpetrators that made Albin “Big Al” Pelski the happiest.

What Pelski, who is the president of the Toby the Clown Foundation that runs the museum, says has brought him the greatest joy is the community appreciation of the school and museum and the generous donations that will enable repairs to begin within two weeks.

“We’ve worked hard all these years,” he said.

The community support in response to the vandalism last month shows a recognition of that, he said. “We’re well respected in the community and that’s very important to us.”

Three thousand dollars have been raised for replacing the four damaged windows and related repairs to the damaged metal window frames. Pelksi said the old glass will be replaced with double-pane glass that will be more energy-efficient and harder to shatter. The money also will be used to install accordion shutters that will provide additional protection when the facility is closed.

On Monday evening, the school received $1,500 from Seacoast National Bank to help fix the damage.

Seacoast Lake Placid branch manager Wendy Larson said Seacoast regularly gives back to the communities it serves. The clown school and museum was a natural choice because it is “such an important part of our community,” Larson said.

Pelski said they also received donations from Masonic and Moose lodges in Highlands County. A few individuals also donated money, he said.

Additional community support is coming from the Lake Placid Police Department, which is raising $1,600 to help pay for security cameras for the facility.

Police Chief James Fansler said they’ve raised about $600 so far and have received donations from individuals and organizations. That includes more than $270 from the Lake Placid Noon Rotary Club.

Fansler said the police department will make up any shortfall.

Ironically, security cameras helped police nab the vandals. Fansler said cameras at a park in Lake Placid showed that during the same night as the vandalism at the museum, juveniles were doing graffiti at the park. An investigation determined that three of the juveniles involved in the graffiti were suspects in the museum vandalism, he said.

When Pelski first learned of the vandalism, he said, “It broke my heart.”

He said it was particularly disturbing because he believed the clown college and museum had done a lot of good for youth in Highlands County. Yet, he said,he felt certain that youth committed the crime.

Pelski said a judge ordered the three youth ultimately arrested to do community service work. He said he’ll be spending time with and counseling the vandals during their community service.

“I will be thrilled if we can rehabilitate them and they end up with a positive future instead of as criminals,” he said. “I’ve told them they are at a crossroads.”

Pelski said two of the vandals have played football at Lake Placid. Unless they do community service they won’t have that opportunity again this coming season, he said, adding he had talked with school officials.

Though the clown school and museum has only been at its facility for three years, the recent vandalism wasn’t the first incident. Last year, two adults and a juvenile shot out numerous windows in Highlands County, including some at the museum.

The school and museum are run by Toby the Clown Foundation. Keith “Toby” Stokes, a Shrine clown, started the foundation and school in 1993. Since then several thousand students have graduated from the school.


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