For those who are not aware, there are a surprising amount of clowns with a substantial public following. East Farmington resident John Carufel can recite a long list of his favorite clowns, including Ronald McDonald, whom he’d the privilege to meet during a local McDonald’s grand opening.
At the Polk County Fair, Carufel would follow clowns around in amazement. He religiously attended the Osman Shrine Circus every year, excluding this year, of course, as the performance was canceled to keep everyone healthy.
With the high school building closed as well, Carufel looked forward to the school’s lunch deliveries every week. Each day the delivery came, he would dress up in a crazy costume designed by his mother, Connie Hecht. The delivery drivers, of course, loved seeing each colorful costume every week. A few of his outfits mimicked characters such as the Easter Bunny, Elvis, and, of course, clowns.
Carufel didn’t always love clowns, though. Like many others, he was afraid of them when he was younger. It wasn’t until his mother pulled out her trusty sewing machine and got to work. With her son watching, she fashioned a clown outfit and had him try it on.
“Before you knew it,” Hecht said, “he was fascinated with clowns.”
On June 4, Carufel had a surprise visit from a very special clown – his high school principal.
Adam Spiegel has been the principal of Osceola High School for six years, and he’s loved becoming part of the school community. While connecting with students and families, Spiegel befriended Carufel and supported him throughout his schooling.
Carufel graduated high school in 2017, but because of his autism, he was able to return for three more years. This allowed him to take more classes and stay engaged with his friends and community.
“John, being diagnosed with autism at an early age, meant he had severe lack of communication skills,” Hecht said. “He’s always had 24-hour supervision either at home or at school.”
Everyone at the high school has been supporting Carufel and watching out for him. It seems like every staff member, teacher, and student knows who he is. Carufel and his mother adore the bus drivers, janitors, cooks, librarians, teachers, and everyone at the school. They are both incredibly grateful for their family-like community.
After Carufel walked across the stage for his high school diploma, his mother and Spiegel tried to come up with a creative way for John to enjoy continuing school.
“We talked about this being his ‘clown college,’” Spiegel said, “and from that, he was really adamant that I dress up as a clown, and he would ask me on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day about it.”
Carufel continued for three more years at the high school, affectionately calling it his ‘clown college.’ In the same spirit, he gave Spiegel a clown name.
“He named me Luna the Clown,” Spiegel said. “He always would say, ‘Mr. Spiegel: Luna the Clown!’”
The ‘clown college’ idea seemed to come true when Spiegel promised that on Carufel’s last day at the school, he would fulfill his nickname and dress up as Luna the Clown. Spiegel planned to spend the day with him and join his classes, but he had no idea the school building would be closed this semester. Even though Coronavirus hit Wisconsin, he wasn’t ready to give up on his promise quite yet.
With the help of Holly Stewart, one of Carufel’s teachers, Hecht and Spiegel planned to surprise Carufel with a special visit. Hecht crafted a clown costume for Spiegel, and Stewart made a big encouraging sign saying “You Rock!”
Hecht told her son that a special guest was coming, and had him wear his graduation cap and gown (with a few articles of clown attire), and he waited outside. Spiegel and Stewart came up the driveway, Spiegel wearing his n95 mask painted with a big red nose and a goofy smile.
“Right away, ‘Luna! Luna! Luna!’” Spiegel said. “He was pretty excited to see me dress up as a clown. And of course, it was an extremely hot day.”
Spiegel proudly awarded Carufel his official certificate and gave him a big hug.
Even though Carufel’s time is up at the high school, neither he nor his mom has any intention of leaving the school community. They’ll always be around to visit and learn.
With school finished, and Hecht retiring soon, the two would like to work together to serve their community. When the dust settles on the pandemic, they are itching to get out and help others in any way they can.
“We can use our talents and our time to help others,” Connie said. “And just give back to the community, because the community has given so much to John.”