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Mary Jo Hotzler, Published November 20 2011

WITH VIDEO: 'Beautiful Woman': Through tragedy and triumph, Debbie Fowler knows laughter is best medicine

Read story below video clips

Debbie Fowler’s son was just 18 months old when one day he went limp in her arms.

It was unexpected. He hadn’t been sick, and Debbie thought maybe her little boy was just exhausted.

A grand mal seizure the next day, followed by a battery of tests, proved otherwise: Kenny had terminal brain cancer.

Doctors gave him no chance of survival. Debbie was devastated and remembers preparing herself for the fact that her youngest boy would likely die.

“I just prayed to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ ” she recalls of the experience.

But her husband, Rick, wasn’t ready to give up. The family met with numerous doctors and ultimately decided to go forward with an aggressive plan to treat the disease.

It turned out to be worth the pain.

Kenny defied all odds and beat the cancer growing in his brain. He’s now 28 years old.

“I believe in miracles,” Debbie says emphatically. “He was not supposed to survive.”

The experience was heartbreaking, and the road that’s followed hasn’t been easy, either. In particular, there have been recent health challenges for Debbie as well as for several family members, including a daughter-in-law who died almost exactly one year ago.

Through it all, Debbie never allowed herself to succumb to defeat, and she’s found inner peace through an unlikely source: laughter.

In fact, Debbie found this to be such a strong antidote for life’s hardships that eight years ago she decided to make a career of it.

Some people may know Debbie as “LaDitzy the Clown.” This Walcott, N.D., woman is a professional clown whose mission is to make people smile all over the world. By making others happy, Debbie has found that she also makes herself happy, no matter what’s happening in life.

This “glass-is-half-full attitude” is what makes Debbie so inspirational and what makes her such a beautiful woman, says good friend and nominator, Kathy Andvik of Kindred, N.D.

“She’s just got a heart of gold.”

The fool inside

Debbie, 59, graduated from Kindred High School in 1970. She and Rick, a truck driver, made their home all over the country in the decades that followed, including Colorado, Kansas and eventually back to North Dakota in 1997.

They have three sons: Jeremy, 35, Joey, 31, and Kenny, plus six grandchildren.

Debbie spent the majority of her adult career working in various office settings, mainly in human resources. When Kenny was born in 1983, she stepped back from the working world to become a stay-at-home mom.

Still, her true professional calling would come years later – in 2003 – when she decided to do something fun and quirky for her aunt’s 90th birthday. She decided she’d dress up as a clown.

Putting on that clown costume for the first time, Debbie says she’ll never forget the way the adrenaline rushed through her body. She says she’s always been a little “ditzy,” and becoming a clown allowed her to be who she really was inside.

“I was able to let my inner fool come out and play.”

Soon after the birthday party, another clown gig came up, and Debbie wanted to make sure she was fit for the job. She turned to the Internet and discovered information about a clown school in Branson, Mo. It was spur of the moment, but Debbie decided she had to go.

Once there, Debbie laughed harder than she’s ever laughed before. She fell in love with the art of clowning and developed her “LaDitzy” persona.

Debbie has since continued her clown education through various clown camps around the country.

Though it might sound silly to some, Debbie takes her clowning seriously. Last year she was invited to join other clowns from around the United States to help introduce clowning in India. They made a splash at hospitals, orphanages and in several public places. It was such a big event that more than 40 media organizations covered it. Her picture even landed in the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.

Debbie also is on the board of The World Clown Association and hopes to one day get a clown group formed here in Fargo.

Divine intervention

When she’s not clowning around – and even when she is – Debbie’s other focus is on family.

Debbie remains close to Kenny. He’s even followed in her clown footsteps, and the two – LaDitzy and Kidder – enjoy performing together on occasion.

Debbie also has been busy helping raise several of her grandchildren for the past year and a half following the death of her middle son’s wife last year. The death, which was unexpected despite years of health struggles, left Joey to care for the couple’s three children – a now 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Debbie took the family in for more than a year, and despite the tragic circumstances has enjoyed her extra time with the kids.

She believes that blessings often come from life’s tragedies.

Another example of that came in January 2009 when doctors diagnosed Debbie with an aneurysm in her brain. The fact that it was discovered and that she was able to have surgery before it turned fatal confirms for Debbie that everything happens for a reason.

“It was divine intervention,” she says. “God needed me to be here to take care of these grandkids.”

Debbie admits she sometimes gets cranky and sad, like everyone else. But she also knows that when she puts on that signature pink and turquoise clown outfit, the world gets a little brighter … and a whole lot funnier.

Congrats to other nominees. Debbie Fowler of Walcott, N.D., was chosen as the first Beautiful Woman by you, the readers. But there were other amazing women in the mix. Forum Communications and Catalyst Medical Center would also like to recognize Jean Arnberg, an active resident of Sheyenne Crossings in West Fargo, and Karen Carlson, who is making a difference in the lives of women at the local YWCA. Congratulations to all three beautiful women.