HaHa The Clown is ever present.
“Let’s put it this way, when HaHa goes out and does her thing, Donna stays at home,” Donna Lovejoy said of her alter HaHa. “When Donna goes out and does her stuff, HaHa comes with me.”
But between the giggles echoing that of a child in the middle of a tickle fit, Lovejoy describes dealing with pain that radiates down her left leg making it difficult to stand.
Less than four months ago Lovejoy had a cancerous tumor and half of her right kidney removed. She has degenerative disc disease. She has had both knees replaced and her right hip replaced. She had a repair to her right shoulder that puts a stop on her arm movement to child-face high so she can continue to paint faces.
In the last 25 years, Lovejoy guesses she’s made about 50,000 children smile with painted faces, balloon animals, magic tricks and that contagious giggle.
Through it all, she said as Donna, she’s had her faith.
“God was watching out for me,” she said of the discovery of the cancerous tumor as she was seeking treatment for kidney stones. “Thank goodness for kidney stones because that’s how they found it.”
After the surgery, she said, she didn’t have to have other treatment but the area will continue to be monitored.
Having cancer behind her, she giggled, she’s facing another pair of challenges – getting a left hip replacement just after the summer season and before the festival-laden month of October. Income from those Horry County festivals helps her stay afloat financially through the lean winter months from November through February.
“I’ve got to have the income to pay my bills. Even clowns have bills,” she giggled. “HaHa has bills.”
Lovejoy’s sisters are planning a fundraiser to help with the bills. There will be a pair of bands, raffles, a silent auction and HaHa will be painting faces on Aug. 24 from noon to 3 p.m. at The Vue Nightlife located at 1101 Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach.
Facing the uncertainty of the winter months, Lovejoy paused before her shift at Family Kingdom Amusement Park.
“I have moments when I break down and cry, but when I sit down in front of a child,” a smile washed over her face before she finishes her thought. “Oh my stars.”
The crying is put on hold when HaHa is working her 16th summer at Family Kingdom, but tears well in Donna’s eyes when she talks about losing her husband Gerald in 2016. Married for 33 years, he died of small cell lung cancer.
But even as she blinks away the tears, Lovejoy flips through the images in her phone.
“He used to always get mad at me when, I drove us everywhere, I would take pictures of clouds when we were going somewhere,” she said describing balancing the phone on the steering wheel and taking a photograph of clouds.
Just two days after he died, she was pulling into their home between Socastee and Conway when she took a photograph of the clouds over their house.
“I was sitting there in his chair and he was beside me, he had been cremated and was down on the floor beside me. I looked at the picture and there he was. That’s him in the clouds,” Lovejoy said tracing an image in the clouds with her finger. “I said, ‘You booger you. Tell me not to take pictures of the clouds and there you are?’ I have that. He was letting me know he’s Ok.”
The pair met while working at the Dum-Dums Lollipop factory at Spangler Candy in Bryan, Ohio.
They moved to the Grand Strand where she became a custodian at Lakewood Elementary School.
Then, HaHa was born during a surprise birthday party for her sister Tina Churchill in Atlanta.
“I was 38 years old. My other sister was a clown and I was sitting there at that party watching her and I thought, ‘I can do that,’” another giggle blossoms. “When we got home, I went to Wal-Mart and bought a pattern for a dress. I found a book on how to make balloon animals.”
She sketched out a few ways to paint children’s faces and learned a few magic tricks before realizing it’s too hot on the Grand Strand to wear full-face paint and a wig.
“He always encouraged me,” she said of her husband. “When he was turning 62, I had been working at Lakewood for seven years, he told me to quit and be HaHa full time. So I did.”
Doing it meant Lovejoy was living out a conversation she had had with her cousin when they were 12 years old
“I remember telling her I wanted to grow up and make kids happy,” she said. “Now look, since then, I’ve been doing that. I was 12. I remember telling her that. Isn’t that something?”
As HaHa, she mouths the words of a nearby game hawker at Family Kingdom.
“I know you want to play. Only 25-cents. Come on in,” she mouths the words nearly inaudible as screams slice the air with each dip of the nearby Swamp Fox roller coaster.
Beside the roller coaster and arcade, HaHa sits beside a table and a “Free Face Painting” sign as she creates a Hello Kitty face on a girl.
“Look at that face. They pay me for this. Can you believe it?” she giggled as the next child sat in front of her wanting half a Hulk and half a Spiderman on his face.