On the morning of July 4, local Bothell resident Barbara Mendoza Petersen gets up and begins her hour long task of putting on her make-up and getting into her outfit – a clown costume. As she steps into her persona as “Barbo,” Petersen makes her way to Bothell’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival Parade where she becomes the parade clown for those in attendance.
For the past 19 years, 81-year-old Petersen has volunteered to be a parade clown for Bothell’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival Parade. Petersen originally got into the clown business because of her mother, who had Alzheimer’s’s for many years. Prior to her years as a parade clown, Petersen worked at the University of Washington as a payroll clerk in the chemistry department.
In 1997 at the age of 60, Petersen found herself old enough to retire and, being around her mother, realized that the best thing for herself was to start living life and having fun, so she quit her job and transitioned into retirement.
Petersen then quickly gained an interest in clowns during her time at the Northshore Senior Center. In 1999, she took a trip to the University of Wisconsin where she attended a five day clown camp during the summer. This experience taught Petersen the ropes of how to be a clown and what the process entailed.
“It was so much fun,” Petersen said on a recent afternoon at her Bothell home, surrounded by her family. “I loved it.”
It was the following year, during the year 2000, that Petersen first participated as a parade clown in Bothell’s Fourth of July Freedom Festival Parade. From then on, Petersen wouldn’t skip a beat.
Typically speaking, most people spend the Fourth of July with the thought of celebrating America’s independence, but for Petersen, the holiday means so much more. Petersen’s only brother, Richard Mendoza, was born on the Fourth of July. The duo was very close as siblings, but Richard would end up getting sick later in life and eventually got diagnosed with throat cancer.
Her brother passed away on the Fourth of July, the same holiday that he was born on. For Petersen, this emotional experience and the love that she had for her brother is what motivated her to do this parade in the first place.
“He died on his birthday. It always gets me,” Petersen said. “I decided that I was a clown and I was gonna do the Fourth of July parade in Bothell.”
As Bothell’s parade clown, Petersen goes by her clown name, “Barbo.” She decided on the name because it happened to be a nickname given to her by her husband Al Petersen. Al said that being able to be a part of Barbara’s 19 year journey has been a special experience for him to witness and be a part of.
“It’s always a big deal,” Al said. “I really enjoy seeing how happy she is.”
As Barbo, Petersen has become well known for bringing her doll, “Bobo,” along for the ride as well. Bobo originally was a gift that was given to Petersen by a friend after she had returned from clown camp in Wisconsin.
The doll has become a symbolic part of Petersen’s costume and a fan favorite at the parade, especially amongst the kids that are in attendance.
Petersen remembers a time when she was at the parade one year and in the middle of the parade route, a kid ran up to her with great excitement and gave her a big hug. Petersen expressed that being able to interact and connect with the kids on a personal level at the parade and experience moments like these are what have kept her coming back every year.
“My biggest part is giving something to the community,” Petersen said. “I give something to the kids and they give me something back.”
For Petersen, the Bothell community is more than just a home, it’s a big family that involves human interaction and people working together to try and make things a better place. Petersen doesn’t have a set plan when it comes to her future as Bothell’s Fourth of July parade clown, but what she does know is that she loves giving back to the community that has given so much to her and hopes to keep on having fun for as long as possible.
“As long as I can give back to my community, I’m happy.”