By Gwen Rolling
“I’ll never forget the Christmas Eve when I knew Santa Claus was real. After I was in bed but not asleep, I heard bells ringing outside my window, and I imagined it was Santa’s sleigh. I didn’t know that earlier that day, he had put the bells above my window tied to a long cord so he could pull them from his window. It was so magical and special for me,” Deanna Jutjens said, recalling one of her favorite memories of her stepfather, Sandford L. Gladden, also known as Jumbo the Clown.
Jumbo the Clown was magical and special to many others in nursing homes, veteran hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, the Tampa Bay Rays family and especially the SouthShore community. That is why such a tremendous loss was felt after his death on September 22.
Melanie Davis, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, remembered, “Jumbo was truly one of a kind. He had the kindest heart, and he lived his life in a way many of us could only imagine. He was a clown, inside and out. Some may laugh at that statement, but his goal in life was to spread joy and to make people of all ages happy and laugh. At the end of our lives, not too many people can say that. There will never be another person like our sweet Jumbo. The SouthShore community will forever miss him.”
According to Jutjens, “I was about 15 when my stepdad went to clown college and created the character Jumbo. I knew him more of a magician in my younger years who could perform amazing magical illusions. My birthday parties were awesome. Dad would do magic shows and use my friends as volunteers. I suppose he was always a clown at heart because he made life for my mom and me fun, silly and magical.”
Although a clown at heart, Jutjens observed that Jumbo’s heart was equally sensitive to the smallest child’s hesitation, understanding that a clown’s unusual appearance might be overwhelming or even frightening. It became Jumbo’s goal to become friends with those fearful children before he left, which was always accomplished.
Jumbo was awarded ‘Best of SouthShore’ in January 2020.
Although he was recognized as the best clown by so many people, his daughter captured what was probably the most valuable accolade of all for him: “I could not have asked for a better childhood, because Sandy chose to be my dad.”