Photo: Jo-Jo the Clown (Karen McCannon), a beloved figure in Sugar Grove, recently underwent triple-bypass surgery. Her heart ”needed more plugs to love everyone a little bit more,” according to Jo-Jo’s sidekick Punky. File Photo
by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—This summer will be one of the few times that Jo-Jo the Clown (aka Sugar Grove resident Karen McCannon) has missed the Sugar Grove Corn Boil. In most previous years, when she was not riding around on her decorated golf cart, the “Clown Victoria”, she could be found at the Sugar Grove Between Friends Food Pantry tent, painting children’s faces and collecting rolls of toilet paper for the pantry.
It was Jo-Jo who began reminding people to donate items such as toilet paper, which people need, as well.
This year, McCannon is at The Tillers rehabilitation center in Oswego, Ill., recuperating from triple-bypass heart surgery. According to Jo-Jo’s friend and sidekick Punky, also known as Yvonne Needham, Jo-Jo’s heart needed more plugs to love everyone a little bit more.
Many people, especially the children, don’t even know McCannon’s name, but they know Jo-Jo. Like the pied-piper, riding the Clown Victoria, Jo-Jo leads the children through town every year for the Independence Day Parade.
Jo-Jo revived the tradition of a Fourth of July parade for the children—something that had fallen by the wayside for some time.
According to McCannon, her grandchildren had asked Jo-Jo to make a parade, and her response was, “How can you say no to that?”
Sugar Grove resident Pat Graceffa said that in about eight years, the parade has grown from a small group of children to hundreds of people. In addition to the many children who show up (with their parents) with red-white-and-blue-decorated bikes, strollers, wagons and scooters, the Sugar Grove fire and police departments participate in their fire engines and police cars.
As the parade winds through the streets of Sugar Grove, sirens blowing, residents sit outside their houses to watch, throwing candy to the children in the parade.
“It’s always fun,” Graceffa said.
McCannon has had her share of heartache and difficulties in her life. Her husband, Mick, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 1999 and passed away in 2002. At the time, McCannon said she learned something from her husband.
“You’ve got two choices (when something like this happens to you),” she said. “You can sit in a corner and cry, or you can fight.”
McCannon spends very little time sitting in the corner, crying. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, and often puts the feelings of others before her own.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer less than a year after her husband died, she had been in clown school for about a month. She said she never thought about quitting her training to become a Christian Clown.
She had surgery in February 2003 and continued her classes in clown ministry while she underwent chemotherapy. She said she always felt better once she was in costume.
Together with her clown friends, Calico Rose, Tiny T and Mr. Mumbles, Jo-Jo formed Humor Opens Possibilities Everywhere (HOPE).
In addition to her clown ministry at the Sugar Grove United Methodist Church, Graceffa said Jo-Jo comes to the Farmer’s Market the first Saturday of every month for face-painting with the children, no matter how hot it is.
Jo-Jo volunteers at the Between Friends Food Pantry, sorting and distributing the food, as well as sending thank-you notes to people who have donated food and money.
“She’s energetic and always tries to focus on the positive,” Sugar Grove Village President Sean Michels said. “She never really dwells on it (her problems); she keeps moving forward and works hard to bring happiness to the community.”
McCannon was honored as Sugar Grove Citizen of the Year in 2008, and Michels presented her with the award. Highlighting her service to the community, he described her contributions to Sugar Grove over the years.
McCannon had helped her husband and others build what is now called the Prairie Building in Volunteer Park. While her two children were in school, she volunteered for many school activities, was a Den Mother for the scouts, and coached girls baseball and high school softball.
Contributing to her community has become a way of life for McCannon, as well as for Jo-Jo.
“A lot of people associate Jo-Jo with Sugar Grove,” Michels said. “She is always at a lot of Sugar Grove events, and promotes Sugar Grove in a real positive way.”
McCannon found herself at the Tillers Rehab Center in the fall of 2009 with a broken tibia after a fall. She had just undergone surgery in July to replace both her hips, as well as one knee. It was a tough setback.
However, when Halloween came, McCannon got out of bed, dressed up, and Jo-Jo handed out candy to about 500 children who visited the center.
Punky sent out an email to people concerned about Jo-Jo and her recent stay at The Tillers, giving them an update on her condition.
“(She) Is in great spirits and working hard as ever,” Punky wrote. “… She’s still her old self; determined, sassy and fun.”
Punky said that Jo-Jo would love to hear from people, but she doesn’t want any sad get-well cards. Punky said she knows Jo-Jo would appreciate joke cards.
“Jo-Jo is all about having fun,” Punky said.
She has also asked that no one send any plants or flowers, due to health reasons.
All cards may be sent to: Jo-Jo the Clown, c/o Karen McCannon, The Tillers Rehab Center, Route 71, Oswego IL 60543.