Renee Snyder and her family moved into a new house in May of 2022. While getting to know her neighbors, Snyder and her children quickly formed a bond with the older woman who lived next door. They soon discovered their neighbor was none other than Marlene “Bowz” Skeoch from the famous Muncie clown duo, Buttnz & Bowz.
Marlene and her husband, Jack "Buttnz" Skeoch, brought joy to children all around Muncie with their colorful makeup and intricate balloon animals for nearly three decades.
Jack, a retired Indiana state police officer, convinced his wife Marlene to join him for clown lessons in 1992. Jack was adamant about becoming a clown, but Marlene wasn’t sold on the idea.
“I had on bright clothes and no makeup,” Marlene said. “And there again, no way was I putting that stuff on my face, while I saw the gratification he was getting [from watching me]. He was in the costume six months longer than I.”
The husband-and-wife duo went on to bring joy and laughter to countless car shows, birthday parties and community events for 27 years until Jack died in 2019.
When Snyder was a child, her grandfather would take her and her siblings to the car shows at Hardee’s on South Madison Street to see Buttnz and Bowz for their balloon animals.
“They were always so friendly and kind and gave the best hugs … It just seemed like all the kids in Muncie were excited to see them,” Snyder said.
Now as Marlene’s neighbor, Snyder’s children refer to Marlene as “Grandma Best friend” who gives hugs in the shared driveway. After being told she lives next to a local celebrity, Snyder experienced feelings of disbelief and excitement.
“My grandparents always had pictures of us with them, so I just couldn’t believe it was the same person,” Snyder said. “We got online instantly and started looking for pictures to show [my kids] what she used to do.”
The not-so-well-kept-secret was out, and Snyder and Marlene’s families became closer than before. Marlene showed her love and kindness in the way she knew how.
“My daughter’s birthday is July 18, and we came home to a bag of balloon animals on my porch,” Snyder said. “We had those balloon animals until they were completely deflated.”
Snyder felt it in her heart to do something special for Marlene. Buttnz and Bowz was a memorable part of her childhood, and she wanted to share those memories with Marlene, not just her own memories, but the memories of hundreds of children Buttnz and Bowz interacted with over the years.
“I thought to myself, ‘It would really be cool to see if anyone else had any memories,’” Snyder said. “It was a long time ago, … and so I thought it would be cool for [Marlene] to see what she did for everybody through their eyes.”
Snyder turned to Facebook and sent out a call to action.
In a Muncie community Facebook group, Snyder told the members of the group she had an idea for a great present for Marlene; she wanted to compile a box of memories from Muncie locals to give to Marlene. She created an email address for users to send their cherished memories, but to her surprise, more emails poured in than she expected.
“There were multiple generations, not just kids but adults that worked at nursing homes, teachers that worked at schools, plus the students who went to those schools. It was multiple generations of people who had the same nostalgia I did,” Snyder said.
Multiple users commented under Snyder’s post what they remembered about the duo, including Mitchell Lykins, Muncie resident and father of three children.
“They were my favorite as a kid,” Lykins said. “It was always comforting to run into them wherever they were. So many ladybug bracelets!”
Buttnz and Bowz not only had an effect on their audiences but also left a memorable impact on bystanders and nearby workers alike.
“They used to come to Fazolis and do balloon animals when I worked there,” Ambra Stefani said. “They were so sweet.”
On Christmas morning, Snyder presented Marlene with a book of the memories, and Marlene was speechless.
“I was blown away,” Marlene said. “I had no idea that anyone would honor [us] in that way.”
Marlene was shocked when reading the memories Facebook users had sent. It sparked fond memories of her and her husband.
“We both worked other full-time jobs, but I was clowning full time also,” Marlene said. “There were times he didn’t get to go with me, but he was there in spirit.”
The moment on Christmas morning also emotionally impacted Snyder.
“Her being around to reminisce with us and realize the impact that she made, it was really impactful for me,” Snyder said. “To get to experience her reliving all those moments of joy too and all the lives that she changed, it was a full circle moment.”
Marlene has always enjoyed clowning and hasn’t retired from the career.
“There are things I would do if anyone called me, but no one has called,” Marlene said with a laugh. “But I quit doing birthday parties a long time ago.”
Snyder hopes Buttnz and Bowz’s impact will continue to spread throughout Muncie and teach residents about the long-lasting power of kindness. Snyder says kindness is what has strengthened the relationship between the neighbors.
“I feel way closer to [Marlene] now than I did before this project because of all the things I got to learn about her,” Snyder said. “To see somebody who gave so freely of themselves for so long, I just want everyone to keep spreading that kindness.”
Contact Imani Butts with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @imani_butts.