His name was Jack Thum. His profession was a professional clown. Few people remember him, especially those outside the Chicago area. You see, Jack died some thirty years ago of cancer.

Danny Minton

Danny Minton

When Jack died, Walter Cronkite mentioned it on his broadcast, and the church bells of Chicago rang in tribute. All of Chicago mourned.

So what made him so special? Why, on October 31, 1979, did the mayor of Chicago declare the day to be “Jack Thum Day”? Why did Chicago mourn? The answer lies in the fact that Jack was more than just a clown. He was a man who loved children. For years he would perform in the children’s wards of the Chicago hospitals, mostly without any compensation. He did it because he loved to make the sick children laugh.

But even greater than that, he and his wife, Shirlee, cared for 37 orphaned and neglected children throughout their married lives as well as their own. Although a couple of little means, they cared for these homeless girls and boys without any government assistance. Again they did it simply because they loved children.

Mickey Rooney portrays Jack in a little-known movie entitled “Leave ’em Laughing.” In it, there’s a little song that carries a great thought. The movie has it as Jack’s theme song. Its simple lyrics go:

“Wear a smile
On your face
When you’re feeling blue
For a smile makes you feel
Like you think you should.
It’s part of the clothes you wear
After you comb your hair.
Just put on your shoes and smile.”

There’s a lesson we can learn from Jack. We have a choice in how we approach life. We can wallow in the negatives and misery, or we can put a smile on our face and make life better for ourselves or especially someone else.

Jack Thum’s name will soon be forgotten except for an occasional rerun of the movie. There will be no more “Jack Thum Days” and the church bells will remain silent on the anniversary of his death. Soon his life will fade away into the pages of someone’s ancestral history.

But in the minds of the hundreds of children who saw him in the hospital, his love will remain. The lives and futures of 37 boys and girls that spent time in his home will forever have Jack Thum as part of their heritage.

So, what mark will you leave behind? Will someone’s life be better off because they crossed your path? Will tomorrow be better because you were there for them today? Will someone be uplifted because you taught them to smile?

It should be our goal every day we live to find at least one person whose life will be happier because their path crossed ours. We should make it a point to make every day we live better for someone else and by wearing a smile on our face make their tomorrows better than their yesterdays.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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