Early Thanksgiving morning, when visions of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are dancing in the heads of most, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine’s Duane Mezwa, M.D., is wide awake.
Clown for a day: OUWB interim dean walks in Detroit Thanksgiving parade for 22nd time
OUWB Interim Dean Duane Mezwa at 2019 Thanksgiving parade in Detroit.
OUWB Stephan Sharf Interim Dean Duane Mezwa (center) with his daughters, Christina Rockwell (left), and Alaina Mezwa (right), just before they started walking in the 2019 edition of American's Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit.

Early Thanksgiving morning, when visions of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie are dancing in the heads of most, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine’s Duane Mezwa, M.D., is wide awake.

No, the Stephan Sharf Interim Dean of OUWB isn’t getting a jump on prepping for the day’s big meal. Rather, he and his family head to downtown Detroit to participate in America’s Thanksgiving Parade along Woodward Avenue.

They are members of the Distinguished Clown Corps — a nonprofit organization that is part of The Parade Company and helps raise funds used to produce the annual parade.

He’s been a clown in the parade for 22 years and can’t help but smile when he talks about it.

“The very first time I did it I realized the special affect it had on me,” Mezwa said. “I knew that I was hooked and that I would be doing this for a long time to come.”

He was right. In fact, it’s become a favorite Mezwa family tradition.

“Ever since I was little we’ve been doing this…it’s my favorite holiday of the year,” said Christina Rockwell, one of Mezwa’s three daughters (dressed in a bacon-themed clown outfit). “People think we’re crazy that we’re up at 3:30 in the morning and getting ready to head to downtown Detroit, but it’s our tradition, and we really look forward to it.”

Mezwa’s wife, Vera, and their other two daughters, Alaina and Katie (along with their respective significant others), also were up bright and early for the event.

“It really means a lot to him…it’s his favorite time of year,” said Alaina. “We look forward to it all year long…every year is a new year so it’s always something new and fun.”


‘Clown around one day a year’

Mezwa said the Distinguished Clown Corps essentially is a group of individuals “who have a vested interest in the success of the parade” and get together to “clown around one day a year.”

The organization has been part of the parade for the last 33 years.

According to The Parade Company website, the corps “began with business leaders Tom Adams, then chief executive officer of Campbell-Ewald, and Walter McCarthy, then chief executive officer of Detroit Edison, who served as the spark in creating a way for leadership to become personally involved with The Parade Company.”

OUWB Interim Dean Duane Mezwa handing out beads at 2019 Thanksgiving parade in Detroit.“For three decades over 2,000 clowns have touched the hearts of millions as they make their annual appearance – passing out the cherished beads and smiles that create magic and memories for so many,” the site states.

Though the Thanksgiving parade is the obvious highlight of the year for the organization, it is active throughout the year, holding committee meetings, speaking engagements and attending The Ford Fireworks Rooftop Party.

During the fall, all members of the Corps are invited to events leading up to the parade, including the Preview Party and Pancake Breakfast. Each September, the Clown Corps committee also hosts its annual Distinguished Grand Jester’s Reception to kick off parade season with all veteran clowns and potential new members.

To become a member, people have to be invited by someone who is already a clown.

Mezwa was invited by Greg Raiss, M.D., from Radiology at Beaumont Hospital, Troy. The two have a longtime personal and professional relationship that includes being co-chief residents and business partners.

Raiss said Mezwa’s excitement to be part of the parade is contagious.

“He’s always here before me, no matter what time I leave the house,” Raiss said with a laugh. “He’s already here, and he’s already in makeup. He’s probably the first one here.”

'A special moment'

This year, the Thanksgiving home base for the Distinguished Clown Corps was the Boll Family YMCA, in the heart of downtown Detroit. Would-be clowns started arriving just after 5 a.m.

Dean Mezwa getting makeup done for 2019 Thanksgiving parade in Detroit.The YMCA’s racquetball courts were essentially turned into large dressing rooms with professional artists applying makeup at numerous stations.

An impressive breakfast buffet was available as a jazz duo belted out Christmas songs and clowns put on their costumes, shoes, hats, and more. Professional photos were taken of each before the group of nearly 200 clowns were bussed to the Detroit Institute of Arts for more photos prior to the start of the parade.

As Mezwa explained, it is easy to determine how long each of the clowns has been a Distinguished Clown.

That’s because the certain combinations and colors represent time spent as a Distinguished Clown. They range from half-white for newbies to a purple cape worn by the few with 30-plus years of experience.

“I’m working my way toward that purple cape one day,” Mezwa said with a grin.

As the parade moves down Woodward Avenue, the transformation becomes complete with the Distinguished Clowns in full distinguished clown-mode as they hand out/throw armfuls of beads to excited paradegoers.

“It’s a special moment and it brings a warmth into your heart — and it’s really what the holiday season is all about,” Mezwa said.

‘Loving the role of dean’

OUWB Interim Dean Duane Mezwa at the podium.Mezwa attended Wayne State University School of Medicine and graduated in 1979. He is a 40-year employee of Beaumont Health, where he completed residency. He became an attending radiologist in 1983 and served as program director for 15 years followed by vice chair and eventually Health System Chair and physician executive for Diagnostic Radiology and Molecular Imaging. He was the chair of the Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Molecular Imaging at OUWB until he was appointed Stephan Sharf Interim Dean in February.

Mezwa has been involved in OUWB since its inception. He was on the inaugural admissions committee and served as vice chair. He has also served on the Deans Executive Committee and previously chaired the Student Performance Review Committee. Mezwa has also represented the clinical faculty to the AAMC as a member of the Council of Faculty and Academic Societies.

Right now, it appears that his favorite work at OUWB is his most recent.

“I’m loving the role of dean,” Mezwa said. “This has probably been the best nine months of my entire career.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

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