FORT MADISON - What started as a "spur of the moment" turned into a 50-year adventure beginning in 1973.
"Shoeloose" the clown, Gregg Brockman, will be celebrating his 50th year in a row as the Clow of the Fort Madison Tri-State Rodeo parade.
"Shoeloose" was named the Grand Marshal of this year's rodeo parade. Brockman was named Grand Marshal in 2005, but this time his alter ego will wear the sash.
Brockman is a homegrown boy, born and raised in Fort Madison. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam as part of the U.S. Army and then returned to Fort Madison. Brockman had originally planned on being a professional close and wanted to attend Clown College operated by Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus in Florida. However, fate and cupid intervened and started dating his wife Beverly and the couple have two children.
Brockman, now 75, went to work and never became a professional clown, but did take some seminars including one in Davenport Iowa put on the Ringling Bros.
"It's the person behind the Clown make-up that matters more than the training or credentials. You gotta have a personality for it. You have to be a jolly, happy person to the type that likes to see others happy," he said.
"Shoeloose" was born when Brockman and some of his friends on the night before the Rodeo Parade were at the Holiday Inn in Fort Madison where a band called "Herbies Little German Band" was playing. The group asked the band members if they would like to be in the parade the next morning and they agreed.
Later that night, Brockman and his friends went out to find a hayrack and some bales of hay for the band to sit on and play their music throughout the parade route. Brockman also went to his cabin that night and tore out a bar and back bar to be put on the the other end of the hayrack.
After just a few hours of sleep, the groups assembled at the parade route in Western attire, but Brockman showed up in a clown outfit. He would end up "Surfing" a wooden plank behind the bands hayrack riding over "anything" that might be laying in the road following a bunch of horses.
During the early years of Shoeless's time in the parade, the Brockmans helped build many floats, but Gregg remained the one and only clown. As such he was pulled along in many vehicles including an exploding house, a whiskey barrel, a bath tub, an inner tube, water skies, and a variety of skids.
In June of 2000 after having a 4-way bypass surgery, he rode in a covered wagon without any wheels. In 2005 as grand marshal of the parade, Brockman sat on a toilet seat as his grand marshal "throne".
Brockman regularly jumps off of what ever is bringing him around the parade route to engage with fans along side the parade to perform rope tricks and entertain the kids.
As the original members of the Brockman's parade group dwindled, the family stepped in including Beverly. The couple's children, Nathan and Corinn, joined the effort in elementary school and both eventually became clowns themselves. Now the children's families including grandchildren have all joined in as clowns.
Michael Manka, Brockman's brother in law, who's been involved in designing and building parade entries throughout the years. Manka died in November.
"With Michael pasing away last year, things will not be the same, but he will always be with me in my heart. You just might see him on one of our floats this year," Brockman said.
This year, Brockman's niece and nephew will also be joining.
Brockman has been known for sneaking back into the parade at several points and loves to sneak in and march with school bands along the way.
In 1975 Shoeloose joined the grand entry at the Tri State Rodeo. That started with Brockman and several friends on stick horses and one year that included a stick covered wagon that Brockman rode through the entry. Starting in 1980 Brockman started riding "The Gooney Bird" in every Grand Entry.
"I had a lady tell me years ago that did not like clowns until she met me," he said. "I always make sure to stop by to see them, they come every dyear to all the performances. They sit in the same section. I do see a lot of the same families every eyar and they always want a family picture taken with me and their family."
In 2000, with COVID dismantling the rodeo and the parade, Brockman got with the Fort Madison Police Department and ran the route as the only entrant, showing his commitment to the parade and its history and relevance to the community.
"As "Shoeloose" the Clown, I might not be your typical Rodeo Clown, but I will do my best to make everyone laugh. I just love seeing people happy."
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