Home >> Features >> Profile
The Rubys head to the next patient’s room while visiting children at St. John’s.
By Justin L. Fowler | SJ-R
View all 3 photos

Funny business
Clowning has serious benefits when sick children are involved
By Tamara Browning

Jan Ruby and his wife, Kathy Ruby, are best known as clowns Jelly Bean and Kupkake, respectively.

But during their twice-a-month visits with children at St. John's Children's Hospital through the Rubys' Clown "Doc" program, they become Doc Phil Betta and Nurse Bubbles.

And bubbles are what 3-year-old Delaney Beard of Raymond is wanting during their visit in April to her hospital room.

 "You remember the bubbles? We've got some new bubbles," Kathy says.

"We've got bubbles," Jan agrees.

"Yayyyyyy! I want a bubble," Delaney exclaims.

Delaney's joyfulness belies what's in store for her the next day.

"We've been here since December, on and off. She comes in for her chemo, and we have a big surgery tomorrow," says Christy Beard, Delaney's mother.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma in December, Delaney's hospitalizations mean she's seen Doc Phil Betta and Nurse Bubbles at least twice before.

"It's good to see her smile. You make something happy happen every day; I mean, you just have to," says Christy Beard, adding that Delaney loves honking clown noses and blowing bubbles.

"Seeing the clowns just brightens her day and makes her happy."The Rubys get a lot back from the kids they visit, Jan says.

"You can kind of see it in them - their energy and all the stuff they're going through and they still have a really good attitude. So, that's why we keep doing it," Jan says.

Clown start
The compassion the Rubys have for children has roots beyond clowning. For Kathy, nursing was an impetus. For Jan, a stint in the Navy from 1975-81 jump-started his work with children.

"When we were overseas at the holidays, we went to orphanages on Thanksgiving and Christmas and interacted with the kids and put on programs and did things with the kids over in Spain and Italy," Jan says.

A registered nurse, Kathy worked in a hospital 25 years ago.

"I've always liked to take care of people and been in tune with illnesses," Kathy says. "As far as being a clown ... if my husband hadn't gotten me into it, I probably would never have done it, but I'm glad he did."

Jan, a former Shriner clown, and Kathy decided to step out on their own by doing clowning events for Children's Miracle Network, an organization that raises money for children's health-care programs and services. That was in 2005. The Rubys started their Clown Doc program in 2006 after meeting people with the Clown Docs program at St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Busy clowning
The Rubys' clowning has branched out to include benefits held for ill children and adults. They've participated in approximately 120 benefits - at no charge - for kids and adults with catastrophic illnesses since 2008. Today, birthday parties and other events the Rubys charge for help support their not-for-profit Hearts 4 Hope, which helps people with serious illnesses. The charity launched in 2010.

Ultimately though, the kids are what drive the Rubys' volunteerism and work, they say.

"When you really have a passion for something and do it for the right reasons and enjoy it, it's not hard to juggle," Jan says.

"When you see these kids and you can just make them, even for a couple minutes, forget the pain and everything they're going through, that's the motivation right there to keep doing it as long as you can.

"It's that little bit of selfishness of you're getting back almost more than what you put in. I used to golf and all, but this is our passion now."

Clown medicine
Matthew Brittin-McCue, 10, of Athens tries to figure out Doc Phil Betta during the Rubys' visit to his hospital room in April. Matthew informs the Doc that the stethoscope he has looks like a plunger.

"What?" Jan asks.

"How 'bout you smell it then?" Matthew says.

"OOOwwwee. Maybe you were right. You know how to do magic?" Jan asks.

"Not that much, but a little. Let me guess. You're going to pull a stick with a plunger out," Matthew says.

"No. Sounds pretty good."

"I should because the toilet's clogged," Matthew says.

A visit from the clowns brings playfulness, laughter and joy to St. John's patients, says Vanessa Tinkous, child life specialist at St. John's.

"The Rubys' dedication to the patients at St. John's Children's Hospital over the years has been amazing. They have met hundreds of patients and spent countless hours with them," Tinkous says.The hours invested are because the Rubys like to see kids smile, Kathy says. "And have a little bit of enjoyment to their day."



Jan and Kathy Ruby


  • Age: Jan, 56; Kathy, 60.
  • Family: Jan has two children - Lauren, 28, and Michael, 26 - from a previous marriage. The Rubys have a chow named Goldie.
  • Education: Jan has a bachelor's degree in management from University of Illinois Springfield. Kathy has a bachelor's degree in nursing from Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
  • Career: Jan sells textbooks for EMC Publishing to schools in Iowa, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. Kathy works for the state Healthcare and Family Services doing policy and billing assistance for providers of medical care.
  • Hobbies: Jan likes to watch sports; Kathy enjoys scrapbooking, reading, crafting, planting flowers in the spring and visiting with family and friends.
  • Did you know? The Rubys have a purple golf cart with a pink cupcake on the roof they use in parades and special events.




Story published Friday, July 1, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 4 )

Stay connected

Twitter Facebook
Copyright ©  GateHouse Media, Inc. Some Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Original content available for non-commercial use
under a Creative Commons license,
except where noted.