Most in the community knew Stanford as Fritz the Clown, a Norwalk man who has appeared in countless parades, including the Norwalk Lion’s Fourth of July parade. He clowned throughout the community for 56 years.
Stanford, who was 84, died Thursday in the Stein Hospice Inpatient Unit, Sandusky.
He was born Jan. 23, 1933 in Norwalk, son of the late Leslie and Mabel Stanford, and was a lifelong area resident. He was a 1951 graduate of Norwalk High School, and attended Oberlin Business College. Stanford had been clowning since 1961, even becoming a member of the Clown Club of North West Ohio.
Stanford decided to become a jester to become more outgoing. In an earlier interview with the Reflector, Stanford said as a youngster, he had few friends and kept mostly to himself. He added he was one of the most shy students in high school.
Stanford came out of his shell, so to speak, after donning clown make-up.
"When I'm a clown, I'll do most anything; anything I could get away with in a parade," he said.
That included dancing and raising his knees to his nose.
Fritz the Clown performed such antics at various events, including the Milan Melon Festival, Strawberry Festival, Carnation Festival in Canton, Cherry Festival in Bellevue and the Wooly Bear Festival in Vermilion.
Because of several health complications, the 2017 bicentennial Lion’s Fourth of July parade was meant to be his farewell act as a clown.
Stanford’s niece, Mary Jo Hazelwood, said he held a childhood dream, which, in some respects, came true.
“At one time when he was young, he wanted to run away and be a clown like Emmett Kelley,” she said. “Emmett Kelley, that was his idol. He enjoyed being a clown and doing things like that.”
Stanford’s daughter, Martha Perry, said while clowning was his favorite, he enjoyed dressing up in general.
"If he wasn't a clown he loved to dress up anyway," Parry said. "He was Santa Claus several times and the Easter bunny."
Hazelwood said Stanford was just 14 years older than her, so they spent a lot of time together. She recalled how he and her father would “get into all sorts of trouble together.”
“He was a very caring, funny guy who loved children,” she said.
“He loved making people laugh. He would go to hospitals and visit sick kids. He liked people. When he was a crossing guard (for the Norwalk Police Department) at Main and Woodlawn, the kids just loved him and he loved them back. They would tell him stories and he would tell them stories. He was really a people person.”
Perry agreed, recalling some of her father’s best-known qualities.
"He would do anything for anybody if he could," she said. "He really would give the shirt off his back. He loved being a clown and making kids laugh. He was a church goer. Really, he just loved people and loved making people laugh. … He seemed to love us kids. He was a workaholic. He just didn't like to sit around and do nothing."
After learning of his passing, his fellow church members at Norwalk First United Methodist Church recalled him with kind words Thursday, Hazelwood said.
“They said he was really just so much fun and really cared about the community,” she said. “He would volunteer if he could and give back. He loved his hometown.”
At Stanford’s 75th birthday party, he said if you think he's about to give up his clowning due to his age, you couldn't be more wrong.
"He wants to be a clown until the day he dies," said Stanford's then 14-year-old grandson, Chaz Perry. "He's been doing it for so long."
Fritz the Clown wasn’t the only one with a funny bone in his family, though.
Perry was a clown as were her children.
"It started out just him (clowning), then my mom did it once, then us kids," Perry said. "Then after I got out of it, the grandkids got into it and then my brother's one son and then the grandkids just took over. It was a lot of fun. I could see why he did it. When you put that makeup on, you were a totally different person. You could do almost anything and do silly, stupid things and people didn't make fun of you."
To live up to one of his final requests, six of Stanford's family and friends will don full clown uniform and makeup to bear his casket for the funeral.
"It's what he wanted," Perry said.
Calling hours will take place from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Walker Funeral Home, 98 W. Main St. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Norwalk First United Methodist Church, 60 W. Main St. Interment will be in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Fred was a former member of the Shoe String Players, and was a former usher at the Norwalk Theatre. In his youth, he worked at the Isaly’s Ice Cream Shop, and had also worked at Fanny Farmer Candy Company as well as the Norwalk Reflector.
In addition to Perry and Hazelwood, other survivors include a son, Mark L. Stanford of Norwalk, nine grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and eight step-great grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth E. Stanford, in 2009.
Stanford’s obituary appears on Page A-5.