Carolyn Jean Hunt looks at a poster that features one of her alter egos — Buttons the Clown. (Family photo)

Carolyn Jean Hunt looks at a poster that features one of her alter egos — Buttons the Clown. (Family photo)

Before she was a clown and a witch, she was a Marine

Jean Hunt visited classrooms, marched in parades and helped with fundraisers, but never took a cent.

EVERETT — She never had much money, but there was a certain richness to Carolyn Jean Hunt’s long life.

In between restaurant gigs, she was a clown and a witch, a wartime airplane assembly worker and a Marine.

For the better part of a half century, the Snohomish County woman caked on the makeup, dabbed on phony noses with adhesive, donned fluffy wigs and goofy hats and slipped into costume to become her alter egos: Buttons the Clown and Beulah the Witch. She was a regular in local classrooms, parades and charity events. She performed in the circus and attended clown conventions.

She never accepted a penny for being a clown, although she most certainly could have used the cash. Mainly, she just wanted to see children smile.

Hunt also was a real-life Rosie the Riveter, one of more than 310,000 women who worked in the U.S. aircraft industry in 1943 to support the war effort. She also joined the Marines during World War II and volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol afterward.

Carolyn Jean Hunt dressed up as Beulah the Witch. (Family photo)

Carolyn Jean Hunt dressed up as Beulah the Witch. (Family photo)

“She was an adventuresome spirit,” her daughter Lynn Sorentino said. “She loved life and lived it the way she wanted to live it. She really cared about people.”

Hunt died Jan. 3, a month shy of her 97th birthday.

She literally had a large heart, which took a toll on her mobility as she grew older, Sorentino said. As her body weakened, Buttons the Clown took to electric scooters along the parade routes of Arlington, Marysville and Everett.

“I used to say she had a large heart because it was so full of love, but she didn’t give up her clowning,” Sorentino said.

Hunt was born Carolyn Jean Cowan in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle. She went by Jean. Her grandmother, who was a doctor, delivered her at the family home on Feb. 17, 1923. Her father, a concert pianist who died when she was 9, inspired her from an early age to learn piano. She could play Debussy’s Claire de Lune well into her 90s.

As a child she lived in several cities, including Chicago and Hollywood.

By 14, she had a license and was driving patients at her grandmother’s maternity hospital and resthome in Los Angeles. Hunt drove until she was 92 and, according to Sorentino, “never got in an accident and never got a ticket.”

Sorentino grew up hearing stories from her mom: how as a child she introduced herself to Walt Disney and he showed her early drawings of Mickey Mouse; how she served Abbott, Costello and Lucille Ball when she worked at Simon’s Drive-In Restaurant near the NBC studios and provided goodies to Doris Day while employed at a candy and ice cream shop.

During World War II, Hunt worked for the Vega Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of the Lockheed Aircraft Co. in Burbank. By February of 1944 she had enlisted in the Marines and was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. She received an honorary discharge after injuring her back hoisting duffel bags.

Back in Snohomish County in the 1960s, Hunt was married and raising her daughters.

When her oldest daughter’s school needed a clown, Hunt found a costume at Goodwill and Buttons was born. With an expressive face and a few magic tricks, she found a calling that would last 50 years.

Beulah the Witch followed Buttons, when schools were looking for a way to teach youngsters about safety around Halloween.

Beulah was “an ugly friendly witch” who didn’t want to scare the kids, but did want them to bring a flashlight and have their parents check their candy when they got home.

With adults, Beulah was sometimes dispatched to work places by spouses wanting to punk their husbands or wives.

“How about a little kiss, honey,” the witch would cackle.

When the Carson & Barnes Circus rolled into Everett in 1995, Hunt was 72 and thankful for the chance to perform. It felt like the big time beneath the big top.

Her story appeared on the front page of The Daily Herald.

Sorentino said her mom especially liked to transform into Buttons the Clown if it meant helping raise money for disabled children. She did so often.

Figuring a hotel room was too pricey, she slept in her car at night in her clown costume during a two-day Jerry Lewis telethon fundraiser for muscular dystrophy.

Near the end of her life, she lived modestly but contentedly on Social Security, Sorentino said.

“She loved life so much, she didn’t want to go,” her daughter said. “We finally told her in the hospital, it’s OK to go.”

A military service and celebration of life is set for 1:30 p.m. Friday at Tahoma National Cemetery, 18600 SE 240th St. in Kent. Survivors include daughters Sorentino of Shelton, Carol Taylor of Everett and Pat Pitman of Bend, Oregon, along with many grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to PAWS.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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