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During intermission Creeky is competing for the crowd’s attention with elephant rides and a 7-foot-tall Chuck E. Cheese. His voice barely audible amid the din, Creeky manages to spark laughter with each brief interaction.

It’s a routine Creekmore nailed down over eight decades, since his introduction to clowning in the 1930s.

When the Barnum and Bailey Circus passed through the Montana city of Great Falls and other youths sought odd jobs in exchange for tickets to the show, Creekmore says he sought out the clowns, looking for insights.

At 15, Creekmore had moved out of his family’s house to work on a string of central Montana ranches while he put himself through high school.

His interest in clowning was known in his hometown of Coffee Creek. So when he was invited to perform in a local parade he pulled together a costume from old clothes and lipstick _ and found himself hooked on the laughter he drew.

After retiring from a lifetime of ranch work and homebuilding in 1981, he joined the Shriners, a spinoff of the Freemasons that holds circus performances to raise money for the group’s hospitals. He’s since been a mainstay of the Shrine circus. A wall in his house is covered with awards from clowning competitions across the country.

In Creekmore’s family only grandson McCraw has followed in his footsteps. McCraw, 39, started clowning in 1982 at the invitation of his grandfather when he was 10 years old, after his older cousins balked at the offer. Creekmore and McCraw later would pair up to visit children in Shriners hospitals, the importance of which McCraw said became clear when he had a child with muscular dystrophy.

“Creeky understands that to make a child laugh, to make a child smile, that’s what life’s about,” McCraw said.

As the performance at the Shrine auditorium nears an end, another clown escorts Creeky down a back stairway to avoid the exodus. When a woman holding a baby seeks his attention, Creeky slowly turns and heads back up the stairs to pose for one last photo.

He’s clearly starting to tire and, citing weariness, later cancels his planned performance the next day.

But as he reaches the curb where his son will pick him up, Creeky smiles as he reflects on his decades as a clown.

“It’s been a real good ride,” he says. “I get along alright so I might as well keep it up.”